Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers are the property of Disney and are used without permission for the sole purpose of entertainment for no financial gain of any kind.

Airwolf was created by Donald Paul Bellisario and the show (I believe) is owned by Universal Studios.

McDugell and the A.P.F. are the property of Matt Plotecher and are used with permission.

Anything else in this story is considered my intellectual property, unless anyone can point out something I missed.

I especially lay claim to the humorous pop-culture references in the story.

I would personally rate this story at PG-13 for the implied violence and graphic description of substance abuse, although more conservative people would rate it higher.

Narcotics are some of the worst substances ever invented. This story shows why.

The narcotic depicted in this story does not exist. I just invented it off the top of my head in order to be the driving force behind the mystery and intrigue.


This fanfiction is dedicated to my friend Walter, who bought the first season of Airwolf on DVD. I just had to see the 2-hour pilot episode again, which helped inspire this work.

Background and setup:

I’ve always liked Matt Plotecher and Mike Demico for their writing styles. You just don’t see a lot of hardcore mystery stories anymore. I decided to write one of my own using the canon characters from the show. Instead of coming up with wild and implausible backgrounds and histories for the Rangers as the plot, I figured it would be more fun to put them through a big, tough case that required all of their skills as a team to pull off a victory.

Romantic pairings seem to be a mainstay of amateur fanfiction, and they’re very hard to write well. So as to not interrupt the main plot with something that should stay a subplot, I kept the romance at the innocent level. This way the romance itself could be either a useful tool or uncomfortable obstacle for the characters to grow with. In this spirit, I decided that the casual pairing of Dale and Foxglove was already a perfect match waiting to be used. This left Chip and Gadget as a potential match. Intellectuals tend to overanalyze everything, thus needlessly straining the relationship before it even begins. (This I know from personal experience.) So, making theirs the awkward pairing seemed to fit.

I tried hard not to create too many new characters as I tend to screw up said action. Using canon characters, protagonists and antagonists, is not a sign of complacency. Rather, it is a challenge to invent new ways to keep the old ones fresh.

A priori:

Foxglove is a full-fledged Rescue Ranger, although she is in the ‘training’ phase. She lives at Ranger Headquarters with her own room next to Gadget’s.

Tammy is not a Rescue Ranger, but she is considering the option for the future.

Hinted at in the canon, there is a garage for the RangerSkate in the base of the tree. It is therefore hollow, with a hollow tree trunk. Gadget would most likely build a mechanical elevator to travel up and down. I put the gate in a renovated closet at the end of the bedroom hallway.

Candy from Strangers

by Charles Johnson (cwjohnson11@comcast.net)

Late afternoon in the city is usually a busy time for humans and animals alike. Most everybody finishes their work for the day and heads home. Restaurants swell with tourists and locals who decide not to cook dinner themselves. Stores and other small businesses fill with customers. Nightclubs open their doors and receive the first trickle of what promises to be a lively party.

“Stop, thief!!!” Sadly, the criminals seem to pick up the pace at this time, also. “Halt, ya blighter! Give up an’ I won’t skin ya!” Monterey Jack was hot on the trail of a purse-snatcher. The rest of the Rangers had split up, covering each of the alleyways. The thief had to pick one to escape from the pair of A.P.F. officers on the street.

The thief in question was a red squirrel who felt that since he was poor, he had the right to steal from the rich, like that Robin fellow from England. Problem was, there was always someone trying to stop him from becoming rich. People like the pair of raccoons who wore the Animal Police Force badges. People like his fence, always cheating him on the price of jewelry. People like the Rescue Rangers, who didn’t seem to believe in the Law of the Jungle. Well, this is the concrete jungle. It should still work! Unfortunately, his attempts at diplomacy with the Aussie mouse had proven futile.

Suddenly, the squirrel came to a dead end. Trapped! An eerie voice whispered into his brain, He’s going to kill you. Kill him first. The squirrel saw horrible flashes of violence and blood in his mind, and he was convinced. He turned around and dropped the purse. From his belt he drew the blade of an X-Acto knife and made ready to fight for his life.

Monty skidded around the corner to face his quarry. Carefully, he studied the image before him. Squirrel, red, male. Knife in his paw. Broken bottle next to him. Pile of papers near me. Not good. Monty looked more closely at his opponent. The squirrel’s face was drawn in a twisted visage of rage, his eyes wide open and bulging. Crikey, what’s his problem? He tried to reason with the thief, buying time for the others to arrive. “Easy now, mate. I don’t want ta hurt ya. Just give up and…”

The squirrel charged at the seasoned adventurer with a death cry, swinging his blade left and right frantically. Monty’s nerves almost panicked, but his brain vetoed the idea. Instead he reached over and grabbed the papers, all of them. He flung the pile at the crazy squirrel and crouched down. The papers spread out and filled the squirrel’s vision with white and brown. Chocking on his cry, he stumbled.

This was what Monty was waiting for. He charged forward like a hungry rugby player sighting a supreme pizza with triple cheese. WHAM! The muscled mouse drove his shoulder into the belly of the squirrel. All of the breath left his lungs as his feet left the ground. Monty pushed his shoulder up and stopped, letting the mad thief take flight for a few inches. The squirrel landed on the ground, not moving.

The triumphant Rescue Ranger took the knife from his quarry and tossed it aside. He also took the belt off, checking it for more weapons. He found a few small semi-precious gems, a bent paper clip, a piece of charcoal, and a small plastic bag of powder. Unfamiliar with the slight floral scent from the bag, he examined the item.

Suddenly, the squirrel turned his face to glare at Monty, as if supernaturally informed of the mouse’s possession of the bag. “Leave him alone!!! Give him back to me now!!!”

Confused, Monty mumbled, “Him? Who’s him?” The fight seemed to drain out of the squirrel. He hung his head and mumbled, “He speaks to me.” Monty’s emotions went from confusion and suspicion to concern. This bloke is crazy! Carefully, he collected the stolen purse and put everything into a neat pile.

The rest of the Rangers and the A.P.F. officers arrived at full speed. Chip declared, “We’re here to help!” Everybody pulled to a stop as they saw the scene. “Golly! It looks like we weren’t needed after all”, the blonde inventor commented. The two raccoons stepped up to take the prisoner into custody and confiscate the evidence. One of them, a female, looked over her shoulder and complimented, “Thanks! This saves us from more wear and tear. Much appreciated.”

The Australian explorer tipped his flight cap and returned, “Always a pleasure to assist tha law, ma’am. Careful with this one, though. He’s kinda loco.” The other raccoon, a male, gripped the prisoner’s paws more tightly and said, “Don’t worry about that. I’ve got him.” As the raccoons carried off the prisoner and the evidence, the rest of the Rangers congratulated themselves on a job well done.

Dale patted Monty on the back and exclaimed, “Gosh, you sure K.O.’ed that crook! Didja pull any super-secret Kung-Fu moves on him?” Zipper flew up to Monty’s eye-level and mimed several martial arts poses he saw on T.V. Monty laughed and replied, “Heh, nothin’ so fancy, lad. Jus’ tackled him loike the way I helped the Dorchester Bulldogs win the rugby championship of ’89.”

The black-nosed chipmunk tugged his fedora, like he always does when a case concludes in victory. He declared, “Well Rangers, a celebration is in order. We just caught the 14th Street Mugger! This area is safe once again, thanks to the Rescue Rangers!” The group pulled together for a group high-five and exclaimed, “Rescue Rangers Away!”

As the Rangers walked back to the RangerSkate, Chip mentioned, “Gadget, drop me off by the A.P.F. building. I’ll walk the rest of the way home after I wrap up with McDugell.” Gadget chirped, “Roger Wilfurry, Chip! I can’t wait to get back to my inventions. I’m finishing up the plans for a new rescue helicopter so we can evacuate larger animals in an emergency!” The rest of the Rangers felt a collective chill run down their backs as they realized Gadget was going to need extensive ‘testing’ on someone using a completely new method of transportation. Suddenly, Chip felt very smart for being such a stickler for procedure and paperwork.

Later, spirits were high in Ranger Headquarters. The sun had set and the night was fast coming. All of the Rangers, including Foxglove, were seated at the kitchen table enjoying the meal Monterey had cooked. A huge batch of what he called his, “Good-time-with-good-friends-meal”, graced the table as the Rangers constantly shifted between eating the food and laughing at the antics of Dale and Foxglove.

Foxglove, being an insectivore, had eaten earlier. This left her unoccupied during dinner. Dale, on the other hand, was ravenous. He kept carelessly grabbing more and more of the food and eating it in a hurry. The meal was two full human-sized servings of linguini pasta smothered with Monty’s own special sauce. The sauce was regular tomato sauce, his secret blend of seasonings, and way too much parmesan cheese. As a result of his careless table-manners, Dale was constantly showering everyone at the table with small splashes of butter, sauce, and cheese. Dale, of course, caught the lion’s share of the mess. Foxglove, being the helpful and bored person she was now was, constantly kept wiping Dale face and paws with a washcloth. Dale found this attention disruptive to his frantic eating, kept trying to dodge Foxglove’s wings while staying seated. The couple quickly evolved a game of ‘duck and eat’, much to the amusement of the others.

A loud, rapid knocking on the front door was heard. Gadget, being the closest to the sound, gratefully got up and answered. A woodpecker with a messenger’s cap and a message tube strapped to his waist smiled at the mouse. Gadget frowned and put her fists on her hips. She scolded, “Golly, Carl. How many times do I have to tell you not to peck on our door? I’ve already replaced it once last year.”

The woodpecker widened his smile and cheekily replied, “Sorry, but you don’t have a doorbell. Besides, I thought I saw a termite in there.” He winked mischievously, and opened his message tube.

Gadget, not buying the flimsy excuse, was about to rebuke about her agreement with the local termite colonies for them to please not eat her home when she was interrupted by the appearance of a telegram in her paws. Carl presented her with an official slip of paper and asked, “Sign here, please?” Taking the offered pencil stub, she signed her name and thanked the bird.

She came back into the kitchen and called, “Hey everybody! We got a telegram!” Suddenly wondering who would send them a telegram, an intrigued Chip queried, “Who’s it from Gadget?” The inventor unfolded the paper and read it. She looked back up and stated, “It’s from McDugell. He says he wants us to meet him at the A.P.F. lab as soon as we can tonight.”

Zipper buzzed and mimed, tracing an imaginary badge on his chest. Monty agreed, “Too right, mate. It’s gotta be important if McDugell’s gonna interrupt our dinner over somethin’. Wonder what he wants.”

Dale chuckled as Foxglove sneak-attacked the left side of his face with the washcloth. He joked, “Maybe Chip had too many spelling mistakes in his report and now has to sit in detention.” The leather-clad chipmunk defended his spelling habits, “That’s not true, nuts for brains! When I filed the report, McDugell said he’d send the powder over to the lab to be identified. If he’s calling us this late, then he wants to share the results immediately. It’s either very prone to quickly spoil or he wants to give us another related case. Let’s finish dinner and then fly over.”

At this point, Foxglove cries out, “I win! My cutie is completely clean! Hooray!” She leaped up onto the table to demonstrate her victory pose. As she landed, she stomped her foot onto the edge of the large bowl with the remaining dinner in it. The bowl tipped over violently, throwing the rest of the dinner onto the completely blindsided Dale, who collapsed under the sudden assault of food. He fell onto the floor, sprawled on his back. He poked his arm up through the pasta and pointed at Foxglove. He declared, “Once again, Dale catches victory out of her de-feet!”

Soon, the RangerWing was coming in for a landing on top of a building downtown. As opposed to many other building roofs downtown, this one was well-lit. The RangerWing settled down for a perfect landing, and the passengers exited the vehicle. Two mice, two chipmunks, a fly, and a bat wondered why they would be summoned to the lab instead of the Animal Police Station. A gruff-looking gray squirrel came up to meet them. Like most of the A.P.F, he wore a blue vest and a badge. Chip shook his paw enthusiastically, “We got here as soon as we could, McDugell. What’s the emergency?” The rest of the Rangers gathered around to hear the explanation. The squirrel grunted in acknowledgement, then said tersely, “Follow me. It’s down in the lab.”

McDugell lead the Rangers over to an animal-sized freight elevator. It was a tight fit squeezing everyone inside, but Dale and Foxglove didn’t mind. As the car descended, McDugell began explaining, “Chip, the reason I brought you all here tonight is so that all of you will be aware of this. I need to call on the Rangers to crack a big case. Big enough that we can’t do it by ourselves. Big enough to be dangerous to everyone to agrees to work on it. You’ll be risking more than your safety by agreeing to investigate. If you give in to temptation, you’ll be risking your sanity and maybe your souls.”

The Rangers were stunned. McDugell was never the kind for melodrama, and he never said ten words when two will do. After responding with silence and their full attention, Chip spoke carefully, “I think we’re all in. Why don’t you tell us what’s really going on?”

The car stopped at the ground floor. The animals left it and walked into a large laboratory. Animals of various types were wearing the traditional white lab duster. Either hunched over the eyepiece of a human-sized microscope, mixing chemicals at a table, or writing endless series of symbols on chalkboards consisting of pieces of slate, these researchers toiled to discover the connections between clues that bring guilt or innocence. McDugell brought them over to meet a white-haired rabbit near a table covered in rodent-sized beakers and test-tubes. The bag of white powder Monterey picked up from the red squirrel was there, as well as a chalkboard filled with possible chemical equations. Most of the equations were crossed out, but not erased, as to let them inspire other equations.

The gray squirrel introduced the group, “Rangers, this is Dr. Woodridge from the local animal hospital. Dr. Woodridge, these are the Rescue Rangers. I’m asking them to track down that nasty stuff you’ve been playing with.” The rabbit looked up from the chemical solution he was watching and smiled. “Yes, of course! Everyone’s heard of the Rescue Rangers. I’m very impressed with your work. Do you think you could come down to the St. Octavia Hospital sometime and teach classes on proper rescue techniques? A lot of well-meaning animals completely manhandle our future patients just trying to pull them from a fire or collapsed building. You see the problem lies with…”

McDugell politely coughed into his paw, “Ah-hem, Doctor. You’re off-topic. What about the bag?” The rabbit blinked, then blinked again. Then he developed a sheepish grin and scratched his ears in self-reproach. “Oh yes, sorry. About that.”

Dr. Woodridge straightened up, then all amusement drained from his face. He began lecturing in a most serious manner. “This bag was found in the possession of the 14th Street Mugger. Upon apprehension, the suspect, a red squirrel, began exhibiting most unusual behavior. Seemingly randomly, he would threaten animals with the strangest punishments. He would also speak to a compatriot who was not present. He would also sink into melancholy only to turn around and suffer convulsions.”

The rabbit physician gestured to the gray squirrel and continued, “Sergeant McDugell asked me to examine him and find out why he was acting so strangely. Amongst several indicators of general poor health were the blood work results. His blood was saturated with a foreign substance. The powder in this bag matches that substance 100%. Preliminary results indicate that this substance is a narcotic.”

The Rangers muttered in disgust at the discovery of the substance. Monterey Jack in particular mumbled a few choice words so softly that only Foxglove’s sensitive hearing could pick it up. Immediately, she blushed a deep red.

The physician continued, “We’re familiar with the chemical composition of the base drug, but it’s been altered. Those of you with sensitive noses will notice the scent on the bag.”

Dale sniffed deeply, still standing well away from the table of chemicals. After sorting out anything he felt would normally come from a table of chemicals, he said, “It kinda smells like a bouquet of flowers. Like maybe three different kinds.”

Dr. Woodridge nodded at Dale, then added, “Very good, Dale. There are indeed three different kids of flower extract mixed into the narcotic. It produces an oily residue that you can smell on a user of this substance. This floral scent by itself is harmless, so don’t worry about exposure. Memorize this scent, Rangers.”

As the Rangers gathered around to tentatively sniff the flowery scent, Zipper buzzed a question. Monterey repeated the question, “Yeah, me little pallie’s got a point. Why bother mixing in the flowers? I mean, you already gotta powerful drug. Why mess with it?”

McDugell fielded this question. He explained, “The drug in its pure form is too powerful to be used by any living thing. It would kill instantly.” Here, the squirrel’s face melted into an expression of controlled rage. “So, the criminals ‘water it down’ by mixing it with harmless substances so it can be used. We think they hired a chemist to discover this flower oil. According to Dr. Woodridge, the flower oil not only makes the drug usable, but it also magnifies the drug’s effect. Kind of like a natural amplifier. That makes the drug more powerful and more addictive. Since it’s made by mixing natural flowers, it has the bonus of being cheap and easy to refine this way. Whoever’s masterminding this operation is both clever and ruthless. I’d like to get my paws on them in a dark alley.”

The chipmunks and Monty ground their fists in their open palms as a sign of agreement. Foxglove just barely restrained herself from swooning as watched she Dale act tough. He’s so noble, she thought. Zipper began punching the air, his eagerness to start the case transparent. Gadget, however, had no such fierce expression on her face. She was concentrating on the chalkboard. She stepped up and grabbed a piece of chalk. Circling a few scattered chemical symbols on the board, she asked, “Golly, how many flowers have you tried to match?”

The physician replied, pleased with a chance to discuss methods with someone of equal reputation, “Well, we’ve put it through the standard battery of tests for common wildflowers. No match. We think one of the flowers in the mixture is a Bluebell.” Gadget asked Dale, “What flowers have you smelled, Dale?”

The chocoholic of the group replied instantly, “Oh, I’d say some Magnolias. Definitely some Bluebells, but the last one is something I’ve never smelled before.” Dr. Woodridge gently stated, “I’m sorry, Dale, but I’ve eliminated Magnolias as a candidate. The equations are similar, but don’t match.”

Gadget then re-wrote one of the equations on the board, adding a last piece and circling it. She explained, “You said no wildflowers. Human grow Magnolias and other flowers in their gardens and nurseries on purpose. They also like to cross-breed flowers to produce different blooms. I think you’ll find that this fits your equations nicely.”

The rabbit checked the board. He scrutinized the numbers carefully before hopping with glee, “Yes, this is it! The second piece of the puzzle! This looks like one of the experimental flowers from the Weave of Life Nursery on Waterfront Avenue. They like experimenting with exotic hybrids all the time. Now for the last component. Hmmm… It looks like it’ll be something in the Lily family.”

The Ranger’s own genius added a huge list of numbers blazingly fast, confirming, “Yes, definitely one of the Liliaceae. I’d say look towards the Lancifolium, Longiflorum, and Michauxii blooms.” The rabbit wrote up a list and handed it to McDugell. He stated, “Here’s the address of the nursery. Also, look for these names for stolen flowers. I agree with Gadget that more ‘local’ forms of Lily would be likely.”

McDugell took the list, carefully concealing his amazed expression. I thank Heaven that these people work for us. He said, “Much obliged, Doctor. Also for your assistance, Gadget. This might give us a leg up on flower oil, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Chip pulled his gaze away from the total admiration of the cheerful inventor to ask a more businesslike question. “All right, now that we’ve solved this puzzle we can get down to business. What did you want us to do?” The rest of the Rangers turned their confused glances to Chip, thinking their work was done.

McDugell nodded to Chip approvingly, saying, “Never distracted from the big picture, eh Chip? Good lad.” He gave Chip a discreet wink, as if sharing a secret. Chip blushed, his tough guy façade shattered. He tugged on his hat and said, “Just get on with it.” Foxglove and Dale smirked, correctly guessing the source of Chip’s embarrassment.

The police officer continued, “I didn’t ask you here to help Dr. Woodridge, although I appreciate the leap forward. I’d like you Rangers to work officially on this case with us. We’ve got two problems. First, the distribution. We can catch all the drug users we want, but the most we can get is some small-time seller. If we arrest one, another is on the street only a few days later, filling the gap. Also, I don’t think you understand how big the problem is. Ever notice the increase in the number of petty crimes lately?”

Chip answered, “Yes, we have. It seems your reports say that crime has roughly tripled in the past month. All of them small-time muggings and theft. That suggests the users want valuable objects, probably to pay for more of the drug.”

The Rangers gasped, realizing the scope of the animal population. Gadget drops her chalk on the floor, “Jeepers! At that rate, the entire city could be hooked in 4-6 weeks! We’ve got to do something!” Monty added his expert opinion on dealing with scum, “Crikey! What’r we doin’ here? We’ve gotta go bust some heads!” Foxglove hugged Dale for support, but bravely added, “We’ve gotta stop those mean people, right, Dale?”

The red-nosed chipmunk, normally the source of comic relief in tense situations, hugged Foxglove back, then pulled himself free. He stomped up to McDugell and asked, “Put us to work, McDugell. How can we help?”

The gray squirrel smiled slightly, and patted Dale on the shoulder and praised, “You make my heart glad, Dale, thank you. Thanks, everybody. This is just what I wanted to hear. I told the first problem. The A.P.F. is handling that part. The second problem is what I need you to solve. The problem is source. The users get it from the sellers. The sellers get it from the bosses. The bosses get the unmixed stuff from the importers. Who are the importers? How do they get it into the city? Dr. Woodridge assures me that if the drug were manufactured here in the large quantities we know about, the toxic residue would be easily detectable. Therefore someone’s importing it. Rangers, find those importers and shut them down.” He then handed a thick folder of information to Chip. “They call it Sweet’n’Sour, or ‘The Sweet’ for short.”

The Rangers returned to headquarters. They were weary from the day’s activities, but nobody even think about wandering over to bed. All the Rangers headed to the kitchen table, which doubled for a conference table for big planning sessions. Monty and Zipper quickly cleared the table while Gadget brought out a pitcher of cold apple juice and several thimble-cups for every one to use. Chip sat in the middle of table, and opened the folder.

As Chip began sorting the massive amount of information, everyone else picked a seat and began reviewing the information Chip handed out. The leader of the Rangers decided to sort the information by type, giving certain documents to the ones who might best analyze them.

Monty got the mug shots and criminal files of arrested suspects. Hopefully, he might recognize a familiar face or know a contact for that person. Gadget received the medical reports from the addicted users as well as the up-to-date scientific facts about the drug. Dale and Foxglove received transcripts of interrogations. Chip thought maybe Dale and Foxglove might spot inconsistencies with their unique ability to connect with people. Chip read the statistical analysis of the past few weeks of muggings as well as breaking and entering reports. Zipper perched on Chip’s hat. The curious insect figured that he’d get paired up with Monty anyway, so he should study something different to widen their knowledge base.

After a couple of hours the juice was gone, as well as the Rangers’ patience. “Darn it, Chip! I don’t like admitting defeat, but I’m positively baffled! We must either be up against a real genius, or something so simple that I can’t see the connection. Well, not that I can see the connection as I’m speaking of an abstract concept and you can’t see abstract concepts unless you consider the word ‘see’ as an abstract concept as well then you can see abstract but then would you have trouble seeing real concepts? Maybe that would explain…”

Chip, his head slumped in his paws, interrupted Gadget, “Thank you, Gadget. I get it.” The mouse quieted down, embarrassed at her rambling. Monty, feeling protective of Gadget, piped up, “Wha I think she’s sayin’, mate, is that we don’t have enough information. Maybe if we get some more clues…”

The chipmunk detective snapped, jumping up and unintentionally throwing Zipper into the air. He yelled, “Don’t you think I know that! We’ve got nothing here! Nothing! I don’t have a single idea about this case! We’ve got suspects, photos, files, maps, charts, graphs, testimonies, and even physical evidence! The city is counting on us and we haven’t got a single lead! It’s all scattered like random dust in the air! Who knows how animals are going to die tonight because we’re in over our heads!”

Upset at this underserved outburst, Dale balled up his fist and charged around the table, aiming for Chip’s head. BONK! Chip sat back down in his seat forcefully, rubbing the top of his scalp. Dale chattered, “Whatdoyouthinkyouredoingyellingatuslikethatwereworkingeverybitashardasyouare!” Chip chattered back, “Whatdoyouthinkimupsetforweretherescuerangersandwesolvecrimesandthisisnodifferentexceptwedonthaveanyleads!”

Dale then slowed down for the others to understand, crossing his arms across his chest, “Then let’s go get some.” He stared down Chip for a moment. Then Chip gave a wan smile and shook Dale’s paw. “You’re right Dale. Sorry, everyone. I was too wrapped up in the pressure.”

Her brilliant smile returning, Gadget stood up and crossed over to give Chip a big hug. She gushed, “We forgive you, Chip. Just remember that you’re not solving this case alone. We’re here to help you.” Monty thumped the table with his fists, crying out loudly, “Too roight! We’re your mates, and we’re all here ta help our city!” Foxglove cheered, “That’s right!” Zipper flew it to sit on Chip’s hat again and squeaked his agreement.

Chip felt the stress melt away from the warm feelings in the room. He stated, “I’m sorry for yelling. Let’s just review what we’ve got. We can figure out what we don’t have from there.” Everyone took their seats and began reviewing the facts.

Gadget spoke up first, “Well, we’ve got an addictive narcotic in powder form mixed with flower oil. Three flowers are needed to make the oil and none of them are wild. The A.P.F.’s investigating possible nursery robberies to find who stole them.”

Foxglove stated, “All of these people who have been arrested were once really nice people. The drug makes them desperate for more. They rob their neighbors and use the loot to buy more drugs. The sellers were all small-time crooks who figured they would get rich selling than buying, but they just got hooked, too. They all get their stock from a single seller, who is the boss. They all go to different places to meet the same guy. Apparently, this boss guy is not the friendly type.”

Monty added, “None of these blighters seems all that powerful or connected. Seems this boss likes preyin’ on people with clean criminal records first ta build up some kinda mob. Another thing, I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout the amount of powder involved. That’s a lotta weight ta carry into tha city. I’ve been around enough to know how ta ship cargo, and there’s only two ways ta carry this much weight into tha city. You either trick humans into shipping it in one of their big cargo trucks then steal it back at the warehouse or ship it by sea. There’s lotsa ways to do it by sea, and a coupl’a these mug shots are of dock employees.”

Zipper flew down and began pulling out charts and maps. He started squeaking quickly and pointed out correlating points on the papers. Chip looked at the charts, tracing lines on the maps. He chirped, “Good work, Zipper! Here’s a pattern I didn’t see before. It seems that every 3-4 days crime slows to almost a halt, then picks up rapidly, peaking to even higher levels than before. That suggests that the slow day is the day everyone gets their drugs, then once they start running out, they rob to save up for more. Depending on how fast the refining take place, that could give us dates for the shipments.”

Gadget consulted her calculations and reported, “As best as I can figure, it takes about the same amount of time to refine. Assuming you have the ingredients on hand, it would take a day to make the oil, a day to mix it, then about 1 or 2 days to let it settle.”

Chip steepled his fingers in front of his face, leaning back into his chair. The others recognized this pose. It means Chip’s brain is exploding with activity, and a plan is forming. Chip then started assigning duties. “Monty, you and Zipper head to the docks. Find out what ships, human or animal tend to arrive every 3-4 days, especially if they’re the same ownership. Also find out if there’s a new gang in the area selling ‘Sweet’.”

Monty got a cautious look on his face as he asked his next question, “Uh, mate? If I do find that stuff, do you want me to get any?” The others looked alarmingly at Chip, wondering what he was up to.

Chip shook his head slightly, “No, it’s too soon. It’s would be too suspicious to buy some right away. Let them find out about you first. If someone is selling it, then we may need to get them to sell it to us with the A.P.F. present to reveal his source. But we’ll deal with that later. Right now I want facts and leads.”

Monty, and to some degree the others, relaxed at this. The leader continued, “Foxglove and Dale, I want you to start here in the park then spread out to other parks. Talk to the birds and bats. Sometimes living high up lets you see things others miss. I want to know if anyone’s seen the same suspicious characters going from place to place looking like they’re selling stuff.”

Gadget asked cheerfully, “What do we do, Chip?” Her eyes shined, hoping to do something good for the community.

Instead, Chip said, “We don’t do anything together. I need to read these files more and go comb the A.P.F. files for things that McDugell might consider unrelated. I need you to go get word on the street. Problem is, I don’t know where to send you. It’s a big city.”

The genius mouse responded, “Well, then I’ll head for the junkyard. All the rumors of the city eventually make their way to the junkyard. The dogs and rats there are pathological gossips. They love to talk. I can also pick up some parts for the new RangerCopter I want to build.”

Chip didn’t like it, but Gadget had a point. Things were heating up and coming to a head, yet the Rescue Rangers were only starting to get in the game. Chip prayed that they wouldn’t be too late. The Rangers adjourned for the night. They would begin in the morning.

The next day, the Rangers headed out on their separate ways. They agreed to meet back at headquarters around noontime to swap notes and have lunch. Everybody grabbed a quick snack for breakfast and left. Chip took the RangerPlane to the A.P.F. building. Gadget took the RangerWing for its greater cargo capacity. Dale flew alongside Foxglove using his glider. Monty and Zipper decided to walk.

Monterey Jack, cheese connoisseur of the world, was just gulping down the last chunk of Gouda in the crate. Zipper buzzed reproachfully. The rotund mouse felt a little offended, “Well, o’ course I’m workin’, pallie! I’m interrogatin’ the cheese!” Zipper rolled his eyes in exasperation. Monty stood up and dusted his paws off. “Well, that cheese is innocent. We’ve already questioned sixteen dockworkers and eight cheeses. Nobody knows nothin’. They sure are hopping down here, though. I’ve never seen the docks so blasted busy!”

“Splendid! I never thought I’d find a dual-channel signal amplifier in such good condition! And here’s an intact transformer for a hand-held power drill! And a new sprocket I haven’t collected yet! This is a good day!” Gadget bounced back and forth between the piles in the junkyard. A few dozen eyes watched her bemusedly. The junkyard folk normally didn’t like outsiders, but they made an exception for Gadget. Who could not love someone with such an enthusiasm for leftover parts? The residents were part-time inventors in their own way, but this was Gadget Hackwrench. She was an inventing genius. Her non-judgmental personality was also a big help.

The leader of the residents of the scrap pile was an elder Doberman matron. She gave birth to over half the young dogs in the yard, so they would follow her anyway. Just to avoid a power struggle, the rest agreed to listen to her. The matron canine, Dollie by name, was gently scratching her muzzle while carrying on a conversation with the visiting Ranger. “Yup, it’s all right. You go right ahead, dear. We don’t have electricity yet, so those parts won’t help us any.”

Gadget stopped suddenly, slightly pouting, “But I could just tap into the lines myself.” Dollie shook her head strongly, “No, no, little one. Remember, it’s our own project. We’ll do it. We need to do this by ourselves.” Gadget had to concede the point. If she never did her own projects, she would never have learned half as much as she did.

Instead, she started to talk about the real reason why she came here. “Dollie, you were saying about how dangerous it’s gotten?” The canine stopped her scratching and continued her previous words. “Oh, yeah. Nothing from the streets, dearie. Sorry. It’s been real quiet in the yard. My boys see to that. No one messes with the junkyard. Still, it’s not like we’re kings around here. We got our fair share of problems, too, you know. Still, it all works out in the end, you know. Equilibrium and all that. We don’t go in their yard, they don’t go in our yard.”

The blonde inventor had been waiting for an opportunity to politely interrupt and steer the conversation. “Who’s that?” Dollie’s expression went from half-glazed to fully awake when her train of thought crashed.

She said, “Who? Um, erm, it was the bees. The bees in the field over the hill that way.” She pointed with her nose. Gadget followed the indicated direction with her eyes. That’s near Queenie’s territory. Uh-oh. The mouse hesitantly asked, “Um, did they say who their ruler was? Was it Queenie?”

The canine thought for a moment and said, “Nope, that wasn’t it. They said they were claiming territory for their ruler, um, Sparklewing. That was her name. They were real nasty, too. Had metal-tipped spears to back up their claim. We’re junkyard animals. A single bee sting doesn’t mean anything, especially when the bee dies after stinging us. But spears with metal tips can stab over and over. We made a treaty using the edge of the yard as a boundary. Fortunately, I convinced them that there’s no flowers in here. They’d be wasting their time.”

The rest of the conversation was lost on Gadget. The thought kept going over and over in her mind. Bees are using metal weapons. This idea disturbed Gadget. Metal didn’t naturally form spearheads. How did they get those weapons? Who made them? If they were bought, what was the payment?

“Dale, I don’t think this is what Chip meant. I think we should get to the next park. It’s only a few streets over.” Foxglove was clearly agitated at Dale’s choice of locations to search. The comic book store was not a playground, and Chip said search the playgrounds.

The chipmunk in the Hawaiian shirt, however, was in high spirits. He tucked his new purchase, Kablammo Man #348, under his arm. He considered how to carry it on his person so he wouldn’t drop it in mid-air. Part of his brain still insisted he answer Foxglove’s question, if nothing else than just to be nice to her. “Aww, Foxy. We still got an hour to kill before lunch. Besides, what else are we gonna find out? You’ve already talked to all the bats with your ultra-sonic-thingy and they haven’t seen anything wrong other than ‘someone that might have done something but I was catching a bug instead so I didn’t see’. The birds aren’t any different, they just stick to their own business, which is in the air.”

That explanation sounded wonderful from her favorite chipmunk, but still Foxglove didn’t like how they were going to go back to headquarters empty-winged. Still she pressed, “Then let’s get going. Maybe there are crooks just three streets over waiting to be captured but they won’t wait for too long!”

Dale led Foxglove out of the comic book store and around the corner to where he stashed his glider. He wanted to read his comic book in peace, maybe munch some chocolate. Was that so wrong? He was trying to come up with some excuse that Foxy would consider clever, when he saw a few of the neighborhood kids, rats, squirrels, and a mole, standing around the corner, crowded around some mink. The mink’s appearance made Dale’s tummy do that flip-flop thing that happens right before something really bad happened. What did Chip call it? Detective’s instinct.

He whispered, “Foxy, see that guy?” She looked over and saw the mink, who took something from the kids and began rummaging around in his trench coat. Dale urged, “Scan him! What’s he got in his coat?”

Happy to be useful, Foxglove turned all of her ultrasonic powers on the suspicious mink. In his coat, he had objects that seemed to resemble one knife, five brass bb-pellets, half a bottle cap, two pieces of paper, a pencil stub, a length of leather tied off in a sling knot, and a dozen small plastic bags of powder. Powder?!?! Ohmigosh!!!

“Dale, he’s one of those mean ‘seller’ guys that McDugell told us about! He’s gonna hurt those kids!” Dale’s brain snapped immediately into overdrive. He recognized a ‘We Need a Hero’ situation when he saw one! He pointed his finger dramatically at the mink and shouted, “Stop, you crook! Rescue Rangers Away!”

With that, the mink stopped his transaction. Shocked, he dropped his bag of powder on the ground and looked up to see two very angry Rescue Rangers coming straight towards him. One was Dale, a real unpredictable wild card. The other was a bat flying at him like a predatory bird. Outnumbered, he decided to flee. His boss warned him about tangling with the Rescue Rangers. He bolted down the alley and down an open sewer hole.

Dale called out, “Foxy, which way did he go?” He skidded to a halt next to the hole. Foxglove flew around the hole in a tight circular pattern. Her echolocation signals sped down into the sewer. Unfortunately, they also bounced around every possible surface before returning as a near white-noise feedback wave.

She landed and apologized, “I’m sorry, cutie. I can’t track him down there. He got away.” She pouted and sniffled, feeling sadness creep throughout her soul. She felt like a failure on a ‘Really Important Case’.

Dale just patted her on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry about it, Foxy. He may have gotten away, but we saved the kids!” Foxglove’s sadness disappeared like a released helium balloon. One good deed balances one mistake. Life is Good again.

The two jogged back to the kids, who were frozen with fear. Foxglove spied the offensive bag and scooped it up, keeping it safe. Dale gathered the kids all around and brought them into the store. One of the kids, the mole, was crying. Dale asked, “What’s wrong Herbie?”

Herbie sniffled and yelled, “He took my money and didn’t give me my candy!” Confused, Dale asked, “Candy? What do you mean?” The mole child explained, “He said he had some new kind of candy and that only kids could buy it. He said it was really sweet. Now, I’m broke and I got no candy.”

The store owner, a short, muscular ferret standing behind the counter, called out, “What?! Is that guy back again? I told him to get out! Why I outta…” He pulled a club from under his counter and made ready to hunt down the mink.

Thinking fast, Dale shouted, “No, we chased him away! He’s gone! Call the A.P.F.!” This news calmed the ferret. He nodded and took off calling for the police. The crying of the mole child really upset him, and it seemed like nobody wanted to answer questions when they were upset.

Suddenly inspiration hit him! He knew the one thing that fixes everything for children. He said, “Everybody stay here! I’ll be right back!” He bolted from the store, leaving Foxglove holding a bag of narcotics and in charge of the children. She suddenly felt distinctly uncomfortable. “Uh, hi kids.” The kids stared at her and waved.

After a minute, Dale came back into the store bearing gifts. His arms were laden with ice cream treats he had bought with the rest of his money. The kids screamed their happiness and tore the ice cream from his arms. Wrappers flew everywhere and the happy sounds of gobbled ice cream filled the air.

Soon after, the ferret had returned with an A.P.F. officer. It was the female raccoon from the 14th Street chase. She said, “Dale! What’s going on?” All the kids’ eyes turned to the officer with a mixture of awe and suspicion.

The two Rescue Rangers proudly strode forth. Dale explained in his most succinct, yet detailed, story. “Well, me and Foxy were just passing by and saw some mink selling The Sweet to these kids and we chased him off but lost him down the sewer and kept everybody here to help.”

The raccoon blinked, trying to process everything he said. Still a few details were lacking. She turned to Foxglove and asked, “What else happened?” Foxglove, regaining her confidence, stated, “The mink is someone who’s been trying to sell that new narcotic around here before. He dropped a bag of it, and I saved it for you.”

The officer’s eyes lit up as she accepted the bag from Foxglove. “Thanks! This is great! We’re all so worried about these things just laying around. Now, who’s got a description for me?”

Dale turned to the kids and said jovially, “Now it’s time to help the police catch the crooks. What did the mink look like? Anything unique about him?” The kids all turned away, eating their ice cream. Someone mumbled something about a coat.

Foxglove tried to give as precise a description as possible, but hearing about the exact thickness of the mink’s bones was just creeping out the A.P.F. officer. Dale hit upon an idea. He addressed the kids again, “Hey, you know you’re not being very good heroes. If we don’t know what that mink looks like, we won’t catch him.”

Herbie replied, “Who cares? I still don’t have my money. Mom’s gonna be mad when she hears I gave it away.” Dale pulled up his posture to something as heroic as he could and lowered the pitch of his voice enough to be noticed by non-bats. “That’s not the attitude a member of the Fellowship of Heroes has, Herbie. Remember the Adventures of the Orange Flashlight, Issue #146?”

The kids all gasped as their eyes went wide. The officer and Foxglove wondered what strange power this chipmunk had over these kids. The ferret snickered. Being a fan of the Orange Flashlight himself, he knew where this was leading. Herbie asked, wonder in his eyes, “You mean that mink was a member of the Lodge of Nastiness and he was selling drugs to kids so they would get sick and hurt people?”

Dale’s eyes narrowed in reproach, he sounded very disappointed as he said, “Yes, Herbie, and now he’s taking his drugs to some other neighborhood to hurt the kids there. We can’t stop him because you won’t give us a good, solid description of the crook.”

The kids, all card-carrying members of the Fellowship of Heroes Junior Squad, immediately realized that the world is in danger and only they could help make it right. They did what any other Junior Hero would do. They swarmed the A.P.F. officer, tugging on her vest and yelling out every description of every supervillian they ever heard of, including a few they just made up. The raccoon lady heard descriptions ranging from the school bully to Dr. Doomsday to the Lord of Darkness himself.

The A.P.F. officer gave Dale the sourest gaze she could muster towards Dale and deadpanned, “Gee. Thanks, Dale.” The ferret chuckled and started writing down on a piece of paper. He called out, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a description. You two go on!”

Foxglove pulled Dale out of the comic book store before the kids decided to perform a Super-Sweep of every street on the block, looking for angry people in spandex and capes. “Good job, cutie! We just saved the day!” Foxglove latched onto her chipmunk and squeezed him in appreciation. Dale was in high spirits again. He replied, “Yeah, we really need to report this to the others! And the best part is we’ll be early enough that I can read my comic book before everyone else gets back!”

Meanwhile, Chip and McDugell were trying to balance their action between reading reports from the last month and trying to rebalance the many stacks of paper that threatened to topple and crush them every few seconds.

The gray squirrel threw down his most recent report and rubbed his forehead. He said, “I’ve had more exciting days on the police force, you know.” He grabbed the report again and marked off his 200th point on a map of the city.

Chip smile an apology and tried to placate the Sergeant. “We’re almost done. Just a couple of more points.” A few more minutes and the map was done. They hung it up on the wall and tried to figure out the pattern of the crimes. It consisted of 4 different globs of markings around the parks, spreading to near-circular patterns.

McDugell saw the pattern and felt better about his so-called wasted morning. He tried his very best to make a joke, so to lighten the stress. “I see a flying giraffe and a pretty gray squirrel holding a basket of walnuts.”

Chip laughed out loud at this, clutching his sides. After a minute, McDugell innocently asked, “What do you see?” Chip looked at the map, trying to come up with something silly, but fitting. “I see an angry duck too clumsy to catch anything and also the RangerWing performing a loop-de-loop.”

Seeing his chance to deliver the punch line, McDugell asked, “Is the pilot blonde?” Chip coughed and chocked on his breath. After a moment he nearly screamed, “When will you stop pestering me about that?! Sometimes you’re worse than Dale!” McDugell gave a slight smile and replied, “Never.”

Chip calmed down and stated, “Okay, this is what we’ve learned. I remember the basic order of which crimes came first. All the sellers target public parks and playgrounds. This proves that they target kids and teenagers. They’re probably too scared of the police for a direct confrontation. This means they also don’t think that adults would be easy to pay off. They don’t have any outside help. They’re paranoid.”

The gray squirrel nodded, his suspicions confirmed with evidence. “I could have told you this, Chip. Why waste your morning here doing it the hard way?”

The leader of the Rescue Rangers took off his hat, smoothed his headfur, then replaced his hat. He confided, “There’s not nearly enough information to track down the pipeline from outside. I’m trying to gather any clue or lead at all, no matter how small. I feel like such a failure.”

The veteran officer nodded again. He did not practice offering sympathy very often. Instead he just gave blunt advice. For his friend, however, he made an exception. “You feel wholly responsible for this investigation as well as for every death that comes from this poison. You feel you will never forgive yourself if a single animal dies while you’re on the case. Even though your teammates help, they aren’t the leader.”

When Chip nodded, McDugell continued, “I won’t tell you to stop feeling that way, Chip. I feel that way about the safety of my fellow officers. Every time I have to inform someone that their son or daughter died because I asked them to chase an armed robber, it tears me to pieces.”

Chip looked up into McDugell’s eyes and asked, his naked fear unguarded in his eyes, “How do you deal with it? How do you keep going when everything crashes down around you? Even when all your teammates fall dead around you?”

The gray squirrel’s reply was, “You find something to distract you. Something wonderful. Something to remind you of what you’re fighting for. Something pure, even if it’s not perfect.” Chip’s mind wandered to that image of the RangerWing performing loop-de-loops. As he just watched it loop and perform simple aerobatic maneuvers, he felt his tension ebb away. In his mind’s eye, he was convinced the pilot was indeed blonde.

He asked McDugell, “Sounds like good advice. What’s your pure thing?” McDugell crossed his arms in front of his chest and spoke with pride, “Paperwork.” Chip’s eyes boggled out at the admission. He could not deduce if the squirrel was kidding or serious. So, he decided to play the safety and change the subject. “Er, okay. That’s nice. All I have left to do is get copies of the shipping records for human and animal ships for the past two months and I can take it back to headquarters.”

Back at Ranger Headquarters, the group assembled in the kitchen for a working lunch. Monterey quickly cooked up a cheese fondue and served it with crackers and chopped veggies. The Rangers compared notes on everything they learned, and found that they were more mystified than they were yesterday.

Chip was taking his time in valiantly stringing together the clues. He wiped his mouth from finishing another cheese-covered cracker. “So let me get this straight. The sellers are targeting playgrounds because that’s where the kids are. So they sell to kids only. Once they get more money, they buy more Sweet and expand their territory. So, we’re only talking about 4-5 actual sellers. The rest work for them. That fits with the style of organization. It lets the ‘boss’ work the deals himself and not trust too many people.”

Dale crunched on a celery cube, then asked, “Yeah, but how do the bees fit in?” Foxglove added, “Don’t forget all the commotion at the docks.”

Chip smiled and stated, “The docks are how the drug gets into the city. As for the unusual commotion and traffic, I believe Monty has the answer.” All eyes turned to Monty, who was in the middle of licking cheese fondue off his fingers. Monty’s eyes went wide with surprise and he looked to Chip for confirmation.

Upon seeing Chip’s nod of encouragement, he started thinking out loud. “Well, if there’s a lotta ship traffic, then there’s usually two reasons. Either business is suddenly booming, or it’s a screen for smugglers. Too many ships all at once might allow one or two ta slip by unnoticed.”

Chip triumphantly finished the explanation, “You already said this time of year business slows down. A lot of businesses like to use this month to put ships in dry-dock for maintenance. That means some of those ships coming in are loaded with Sweet. We just need to figure out which ones.”

Monterey protested, “Chip, it ain’t that simple. The Harbormaster is supposed ta record all tha ships and their cargos. Wouldn’t it jus’ be too easy to read his logbook?”

The leather-clad detective smiled smugly and retorted, “Wouldn’t it be really, really good for business if a crime boss had the Harbormaster on his payroll?” The Rangers frowned as they processed this idea. It would be very convenient indeed.

Gadget spoke up, “But Chip, what about the bees? How do they fit in? Insects just don’t mine iron ore and smelt it. I mean they could if they wanted to but they never want to not that they could understand how to do it but they never teach their larva how to do it its like they don’t want to bother or maybe it would be too dangerous or they don’t have access to raw materials hmmm I wonder if I could come up with some plans for a forge and smithy small enough for an insect…”

Chip gently interrupted Gadget’s rocket train of thought before it left the solar system. “I don’t know how the bees fit in. It may be that they don’t fit in. It’s the fact that you said they had finished metal speartips. Either they made them themselves or they traded for it. If they traded, who gave it to them? For what price? Since they’re bees, they know all about flowers. Do the bees know where some patch of lilies are? Or are they looking to start a war against other insects who are more poorly equipped?”

The Rangers began contemplating the horrors of a Hive War. Zipper in particular blanched as the brutal acts flashed through his mind. He did not wish those trials upon any insect. He was very surprised when Chip addressed him directly. “Zipper, I want you to go to this Queen Sparklewing and find out how she gets her metal. If she makes it, fine. If she trades for it, find out who brings it, who they work for, and what do the bees give in exchange.”

Zipper felt a great burden on his tiny shoulders. He squeaked and pantomimed a serious question. The others considered the consequences of failure. Chip answered gravely, “If they are looking for a fight, then do whatever it takes to stop them. We can’t afford to have one hive having a supreme advantage and wiping out all the others.” The brave fly buzzed over and landed on Gadget’s head. He pointed down at her and gave a questioning look.

Gadget mentioned, “Golly, Chip. Maybe I should go with him. If I can teach somebody how to work metal then maybe it will help keep the peace.” Chip’s stomach lurched and he nearly lost his lunch. Should I send Gadget into what might very well become a war zone? Can I afford not to? Chip nodded his agreement.

The blonde mouse sensed his discomfort and patted his paw. Dale piped up and asked, “So, what else are we going to do?” The others seemed anxious to do something.

Chip stood up and said, “Monty, Dale, and I are going back to the docks. We need to speak to the Harbormaster. I’m convinced he’s in on it, even if he doesn’t know what he’s letting in.”

Foxglove spoke up hesitantly, “What do I do?” The black-nosed leader asked, “Did you finish the assignment I gave you?” Upon seeing Dale and Foxglove’s sheepish responses, he replied, “Then go back and finish it. Actually, you’ll have to start over. Now I want you to do something else. It might take all day. I want you to spread the word about the mink. Give his description and methods to all the animals around. Use the bats to help you tonight if they can. I want to make this city so hostile for him that if he shows his scummy face even once, the A.P.F. will nail him and find his private stash of drugs.”

The kind-hearted bat, sighed at the size of the task given to her. However, it was a ‘Very Important Assignment’, so she screwed up her determination and decided to help as best as she could. Dale would be very proud of her. With that, the Rangers put their dishes in the sink and separated to work their respective jobs.

Some time later, Gadget and Zipper found themselves on the border if a field of wild daisies. Gadget was standing on the ground, trying to look inconspicuous. Zipper was hovering in mid-air about a foot in altitude, facing down a pair of much larger bees, each wielding wooden-shaft spears with gleaming metal tips. The bees also had round iron shields for protection. While the bees did slow down in their flight, they could deliver and withstand a lot of damage.

While Zipper addressed the stern-faced guards, Gadget inspected the speartips carefully from her position. Hmmm…Iron, definitely not steel. Too small a carbon content for steel. They’re too high of quality for pig iron, but not nearly enough to use in springs. Drawn iron? No, not that. No surface lines to show the grain. Pressed iron? Yes, it looks like pressed iron. The edges look ground as well as sharpened. So, someone’s got an assembly process and a mold. They’re really cranking out lots of speartips. And look at those shields, they’re ground around the edges, too. Someone’s outfitting this beehive for war, but why?

Suddenly, an officer bee flew in from the hive. Instead of being outfitting like a common soldier bee, he was wearing a saber strapped to his shoulder. The saber looked as if it were sharp enough to sever an insect’s limbs at the joints. But what really caught everyone’s attention was the plate armor he was wearing.

Golly and a half! Is he wearing an insect version if human light plate armor that the medieval knights used to wear? It’s just the chest protector with shoulder plates and side joints, but still! He must look invulnerable on the battlefield during a charge! What’s going on here?

The officer had been buzzing back and forth with Zipper, who had been getting more and more impatient with what must have been bureaucratic nonsense. Finally, the officer bee drew his saber and pointed it right at Zipper’s head, only a millimeter from his face. He declared, “I don’t care if you know about a thousand treaties, you’re nobody important to me so you don’t get anywhere near our hive. Now take your companion and leave!”

Zipper bravely did not flinch, but he did turn away and hover near Gadget. Before he could squeak a word, Gadget said supportively, “Don’t worry about it, Zipper. We all know you’re not a nobody. Maybe we just can’t get in without a fight. Maybe we can help the boys at the docks.”

The fly strongly buzzed a negative reply, then squeaked and mimed a complicated plan. Gadget’s eyes narrowed in thought, then flew open in surprise. She asked, “Really? You think Queenie can help us? How did you know that her hive was the one with the treaty with Queen Sparklewing?”

The crafty, diminutive member of the Rangers pantomimed himself wearing a slouch hat, overcoat, and a scarf. The two Rangers chuckled out loud at the joke. Gadget playfully chided, “Zipper, you listen to too many of those old radio mysteries. Some of Chip’s bad habits are starting to rub off on you.”

Standing outside an active beehive would normally be a harrowing experience for most rodents. Being surrounded by over a hundred bees with stingers in a place you don’t belong would make anyone nervous. However, Gadget was not like most rodents. Being the mechanical and mathematical genius she was, she was mesmerized by the exacting flight patterns of all the bees that kept flying in and out of the hive, collecting the pollen necessary to the hive’s survival. The precise maneuvers and carefully timed formation exchanges seemed like poetry in motion to any pilot.

Being friends with the famous Zipper of the Rescue Rangers helped, too. The fly in question just drifted out of the hive and flew in a wobbly pattern over to Gadget. It almost seemed as if he was intoxicated with something.

Gadget, immediately concerned, went over to help her friend. “Zipper, are you okay?!” The fly answered with a dreamy buzz. There was a silly smile on his face that he just couldn’t get rid of. He squeaked that he was, in fact, never better.

A louder buzzing sound announced the arrival of Queenie with her pair of soldiers as escort. The Queen of the hive announced softly, “We are ready to leave. Under the Treaty of the Four Flowers, we have Royal Permission to visit our rival at any time for diplomatic negotiations. This includes the demanding of a Royal Explanation for the buildup of armaments, which is a violation of Article 6 of the treaty in question. Are you ready, Miss Gadget?”

The inventor answered hurriedly, “Never mind me, Zipper seems to be intoxicated with something! We need your physician.” Queenie glanced at Zipper, who still seemed to be trying to conquer his wooziness in an effort to claim his self-control. She gave a knowing smile and a wink to Gadget, saying, “The only thing Zipper is inebriated with is our royal affection. The last time I checked, that was perfectly legal.”

A short time later, Gadget, Zipper, Queenie, and Queen Sparklewing sat around a long table inside the massive Sparklewing beehive. It was large by insect standards, but Gadget still seemed like a giant sitting on the floor demurely at the side of the table with Zipper. Queen Sparklewing sat at the head of the table, beneath a large carving representing the heraldic crest of Sparklewing. Queenie sat at the far end of the table, opposite of Sparklewing. Queenie’s guards and a pair of Queen Sparklewing’s guards jointly watched over the grand entranceway, as was custom.

An hour of meaningless pleasantries had been in full swing between the two members of royalty, when Sparklewing finally broached the subject, “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

At this question, Gadget and Zipper immediately straightened their posture and tried to cover up their drowsiness. Queenie asked in a very official tone, “I must ask for your explanation concerning the new metal weaponry and armor of your soldiers.”

Queen Sparklewing replied haughtily, “We owe you nothing. It is our own business.”

Queenie leaned forward in her chair, “It violates Article 6 of the Four Flowers Treaty. ‘No side shall build an unequal advantage in military armaments without the sharing of information concerning said armaments.’ I think you’re planning for war secretly.”

Sparklewing replied heatedly, “I don’t care about your worries, I have worries of my own! I’m not going to attack you.”

“So you say”, Queenie retorted.

“I’m the one about to be attacked!”, Sparklewing yelled indignantly.

Zipper and Gadget followed the volley back and forth like a tennis match.

“By whom? What kingdom could match you?”, Queenie asked.

“You’ve been following the territories in this field. There’s four new hives that surround mine plus yours. I have no treaties with any of them”, Sparklewing.

“Why not negotiate?”, Queenie pressed.

“All four of them have been sending scouts to test my defenses! They’ve teamed up against me! I can’t fight all four of them at once! This entire field will be a giant hive war!”, Sparklewing confessed.

Gadget’s neck was starting to get sore from the back-and-forth.

“That doesn’t give you the right to break our treaty and keep these secrets from me”, Queenie responded.

“How can you think that of me? We’ve always been friends!”, Sparklewing protested.

“I’ve received no reports of any skirmishes from any of my borders, including ones that border your ‘new hives’. They’ve been quiet. I think you’re planning to attack us”, Queenie declared.

Sparklewing stood up, offended. “How dare you suggest such a thing?! How do I know you’re not conspiring against me with them?!?!”

Queenie smiled slyly and purred, “Maybe I am.”

Zipper nearly choked on his breath. Is my Queenie such a ruthless schemer? Is she really just a heartless warmonger who just used people for her own power? What does that make me? He decided to hold his silence a bit longer.

Sparklewing seemed to wilt and deflate. In an almost whimpering voice, she asked, “Are you?”

Queenie held her voice firm. She was regal as well as accusatory. “Maybe I need their protection. After all, you’re building up massive war tools without informing me. You claim reports of skirmishes that I can’t confirm. You also forcefully rebuff my Royal Consort, Sir Zipper, who by treaty is allowed to act as my proxy for routine negotiations. What am I to think, Sparkle?”

Queen Sparklewing slumped into her chair, defeated. She hiccupped a few times and dabbed her tears away with a discreet cloth. Gadget’s heart went out to the bee, but she still held her silence. Finally, the monarch of the Sparklewing Hive collected herself and began to speak.

“You are correct, as usual, Queenie. I’ve been so paranoid about my own safety that I’ve, um…bent the treaty just a little. Is there any way I can make up to you?” She then added, almost scared, “And secure your alliance?”

Queenie’s countenance melted into the famous warm smile she normally wore. She got up and crossed over to embrace Sparklewing in a friendly hug. “Of course, Sparkle. Just honor the treaty and share with me how you got all of this metal. Did you make it?”

Sparklewing shook her head, “Not a chance. I’m consolidating my territory. I need every bee working on infrastructure. Besides, I wouldn’t know how to start. I trade for it.”

“Trade for it? Who gives you metal, and what do you use for payment?”, Queenie asked, truly confused.

Sparklewing explained, “A rat comes by about once a week. He was workers bring carts of finished iron products that I ask for. We give him the blooms of some human’s lilies from his overgrown greenhouse. Carolina Lilies, I think they’re called.”

Zipper finally spoke up, buzzing, squeaking, and pantomiming. Gadget recognized the message he was asking. He inquired, ‘Your Majesty, is this rat short for his species, have an overlarge nose, very old-fashioned clothing like in the gangster movies, and speak poorly?’

Sparklewing replied gracefully, “Heavens no. Not the rat I deal with that is, but the one you describe is his employer. He came by with the initial offer. He said he just wanted the blooms intact and would give us anything we wanted in return. When I asked why he couldn’t get the blooms himself, he replied he couldn’t spare the manpower away from the business he already has. Normally, I wouldn’t deal with his kind. He’s so…slimy of attitude.”

Zipper and Gadget shared a worried glance. They both thought the same thing.

Rat Capone is mixing flower oils to augment narcotics.

But where did he get the narcotics? Did he buy them from someone?

Zipper squeaked again. Queenie could hardly believe what she was hearing. Zipper was saying, ‘Queen Sparklewing, your supplier is a criminal of the worst kind. He is using the lily flowers to poison animals all over the city.’

“So?”, asked Sparklewing.

Gadget nearly yelled, “What?!?!”

Zipper motioned her to be quiet. He was used to this attitude amongst insects. Anything outside of the hive does not matter. He was sick of it, but yelling would not change anyone’s mind.

The noble fly stood up on the table and began miming a complicated series of actions, all leading up to a question. Queenie stated, “Yes, that is most brilliant, Sir Zipper. Sparkle, what if we made you a better deal? If we give you the capability to make your own iron items, would you stop giving this rat anymore flowers of any kind?”

Queen Sparkle thought about this for a moment, then asked, slyly, “If I said ‘yes’, would you re-declare your alliance with us? If I had that, then those other hives would not attack the both of us.”

Queenie affirmed, “Of course, provided that we also share the same ability.”

“Definitely!”, Sparklewing agreed.

Queenie then indicated Gadget with a sweep of her paw, “Then we shall leave it to Miss Gadget here to teach our bees to refine their own metal.”

Sparklewing cast a suspicious eye upon the blonde mouse. Gadget knew that look and could guess what the bee was thinking. It’s another rodent. Why trade one for another? Gadget started to fume, but carefully concealed it with an expression of confidence.

Zipper gestured and buzzed. Sparklewing questioned, “Really? You, Miss, are a Rescue Ranger as well? Are you in Sir Zipper’s squadron?”

The inventor smiled politely and replied, “Something like that. I’m the science expert on the team. I would love to teach your hive how refine and work metal. Teaching is a rare privilege for me.”

Queenie, satisfied, said, “Then it’s agreed. Miss Gadget will provide training for each of our hives in metalworking. We will be your full allies in any hive wars and our patrols will fly in formation with yours. That will deter those newly-built upstarts.”

Sparklewing responded, “In return, we will no longer do business with these rats. They may get their own lilies from now on. We will set aside a place next to our hive to refine the metal. We expect documentation as well as instruction by Miss Gadget. We would like to begin as soon as possible. I will inform my commanders that Sir Zipper and Miss Gadget are welcome in our territory at any time.”

Chip, Dale, and Monterey were wandering the docks, looking carefully at the scenery before them. “Zowie! Lookie at all them ships!”, Dale commented. Chip had to agree. Every last dock was occupied, and there were dozens. Work crews frantically ran back and forth, bringing equipment and transports for the cargo coming and going. For every occupied dock, there was another ship just a bit out into the water, waiting for its turn to dock. Past all of the lines, there was a chaotic conglomeration of ships that jumbled and vied for being next in line for a vacant dock. There was also a large human passenger liner anchored in the harbor, shielding the fleet of rodent ships from human eyes.

“Blimey! I ain’t neva seen any port so bloomin’ crowded. Why are they all here now? The businesses should’a scheduled their deliveries betta than this!” Monty’s eyes fairly bulged from their sockets as he tried to take an average head count of crews on all the ships, then guess how crowded the bars and pubs would be. He immediately came up with an answer of ‘not a bloody chance’ of getting some private talk with an informant.

Chip seemed to know what the Aussie adventurer was thinking. He sighed and admitted, “You’re right, Monty. We’ll never find a discreet contact now. They’re either too busy working or hiding from the others. Let’s just head for the Harbormaster.”

The chipmunks followed the large explorer as he expertly navigated his way through the frenzied mobs and past rickety rodent-sized buildings to a slightly larger shack raised up on stilts. Similar to a forest ranger’s watchtower, the Harbormaster’s office had a clear view of the whole docks, and even had three sets of binoculars mounted on swiveled posts for observing and recording the names and registries of every ship.

The trio climbed up the short ladder and knocked on the door. A brusque reply of “Come in!” sounded from within, and the Rangers obeyed. Making sure to shut the door behind himself, Monty called out, “Four bells! Ahoy, Harbormaster Joey!”

Joey, a hedgehog wearing a sweater and knit cap, turned away from his binoculars. His face lit up in recognition as he cried out, “Monterey Jack, you crusty salt! What’re ya doin’ in my port?”

The two friends shook paws vigorously. One would think that the hedgehog would be engulfed in one of Monty’s world-famous bone-crushing Down-Under Hugs. The reason why he doesn’t greet Joey this way would be immediately obvious by how Joey’s spikes tended to stick straight out constantly under his sweater, even when he was relaxed. Monty had already made that mistake once, thank you.

Monty spoke proudly, “This ‘ere’s me mates, Chip and Dale. We’re ‘ere ta talk to you about some no-good smugglers using your port.” At this statement, Joey’s smile falters slightly, but then he over-compensates. Normally, nobody would notice the slip.

Nobody except Chip, who was watching for just such a thing. This guy’s up to something. I’d bet cashews to walnuts that he’s part of it somehow. I hope for Monty’s sake that he’s not in too deep. The crafty detective mentioned, “Have you ever heard of a drug called Sweet’n’Sour, Joey?”

The hedgehog panicked. Cripes! He looks like he knows something! Better play it cool or he’ll get me into trouble. Joey could not maintain his smile anymore. He asked, “That terrible stuff? Never seen it here, detective. Why do you ask?”

Chip pressed, crossing his arms across his chest, “Someone’s poisoning all the kids of the city with that stuff. They’re even mixing it with other things to make it horribly addictive. The victims may never recover. You wouldn’t know about that, would you?”

The rotund adventurer turned on the fedora-clad chipmunk and chided, “Chip! You can't be serious! Joey’s as honest as tha day is long in tha Antarctic summertime! I’ve known ‘im for years!”

Dale observed the situation as only Dale could. Gosh, Chip’s serious! Is this guy really one of the Bad Guys? But how? Wouldn’t his records be able to be read by the police? Hoping to diffuse the situation, he asked, “Hey, this place is really neat! I’ll bet you can see all the ships from here.”

Thankful for the break in the 3rd degree, Joey answered, “That’s right. I have to watch and record every ship that comes in here. Dale asked in wonderment, “Every ship?” Joey answered with pride, “Every last one and their cargos. It’s a big job.”

Chip, seeing his opportunity, asked pointedly, “Then may we see your logbook?” The Harbormaster choked on his breath, then mumbled something that sounded like, “What?” Chip elaborated further, careful to enunciate his every word, “We need to check your logbook for the past two months. We think some rogue ships have been sneaking in under your nose and delivering shipments of ‘Sweet’ to be used in the city. We have to stop them.”

The hedgehog finally failed to control himself and slammed his paws on his logbook. His face paled and he screeched, “No, you can’t read it! No one other than…uh, the Port Authority can read the contents. Now go!”

Monty was about to berate Chip for his bad manners, but instead became concerned for his friend. “Joey? What’s wrong? You know those records are practically public record. You can tell us, we’re mates! Through thick ‘n thin, remember?”

The hedgehog wouldn’t relent, but a look of shame crossed his face. Contrary to popular rumor, Dale was indeed less dense than lead. He spoke in disappointment, “You done something bad, didn’t you?”

Chip continued his interrogation, but with a bit less force. He was hoping that a little sympathy might coax Joey into confessing. “You’re being paid to look the other way while the smugglers dock. Then you alter your logbook to change the entry to something phony. Am I right?”

After a moment, Joey nodded. Monterey breathed, “Joey. No, not you. What made ya do it?” When the hedgehog wouldn’t answer, Chip decided to prod him. “How much are you being paid?”

The Harbormaster let go of the book and stepped up to the leather-jacketed chipmunk. With righteous indignation, he growled, “Nothing! I’m not taking any of their dirty payment. You think I’m some kind of monster don’t you? Don’t play superior to me, chipmunk! A real slimeball of a rat kidnapped my family over a month ago. As long as I do what they tell me, my wife and daughter stay alive. What do you think of that, detective?!”

Dale and Monty gasped at the confession. Chip made a mighty effort not to show his amazement at this new complication. Instead, he said calmly, “I think that if you go to the A.P.F. with your logbook, they’ll find your family and protect them until we put these thugs away for good.”

A glimmer of hope shined in the hedgehog’s eyes, then it died. Chip noticed this, but didn’t say anything. Joey seemed to lighten up, and said, “Hey, that sounds great. Actually, I record all the other ships in a different logbook. It’s not here, it’s back at the warehouse. Tell you what. I get off work at 6-o’clock tonight. Why don’t you meet me out front of the Crossed Cardinals warehouse, then I’ll give you the book. Maybe the A.P.F. can do something with it.”

Monty slapped Joey on the shoulder in a gesture of friendship. “YOWCH!!!” Then he pulled it away, blowing on his palm to soothe the pain of the spikes. “Crikey, I do that ev’ry time! Ya think a bloke would learn by now.” Shaking his limp palm to get rid of the shock , he stated, “Joey, ya jus’ did the roight thing. We’ll be back tonight an’ you’ll see what the Rescue Rangers can do!”

Dale cheered, “Yeah! Your family will be safe, and those goons will get what’s coming to them!” The Rangers started filing out of the raised office. Chip’s intuition was pinging his brain relentlessly. It can’t be that easy. He’s still hiding something. I hope this isn’t a trap, but it might be.

As the three intrepid heroes marched back to their headquarters, Joey stared after them for a while. A while ago, he learned to drown his conscience with various things. But this time, it surfaced with a vengeance. A slight prayer escaped his lips as he thought of his wife. “Maybell, did I ever do the right thing since this started?”

After the two groups rendezvoused back at Ranger Headquarters, they shared notes on what they learned so far. Chip and Zipper dominated most of the conversation. A series of squeaks and buzzes sounded, followed by Chip’s answer. “I’m not sure. It would be neat and pretty to have both ends of the manufacture run by the same suspect, but we can’t just assume it. We do know now that Rat Capone is in on the operation, supplying the flower oil. He fits the profile of our ideal drug kingpin, but we don’t have evidence of how he gets the drugs. One link is missing.”

Gadget spoke up hesitantly, “Um, Chip? I need to get started on the designs for an insect-sized forge and smithy. I need to draw up blueprints for a bellows, tools, and even flashcards of step-by-step procedures for their private reference after I’m done teaching them. That is, of course, if that’s what we’re doing.”

Chip gazed deeply into the mouse inventor’s eyes. He saw the hesitation in her thoughts. He also knew what she was really asking. Will this interfere with your plans? He knew the depths of dedication in Gadget’s soul to the cause of Justice. He also knew the depths of her loyalty. If he asked her to hold off and let the next batch of Carolina Lilies ship out to reach Rat Capone, she would do it without hesitation. He appreciated her unswerving loyalty, but it scared him. Do I really deserve this girl? Should I trust myself with her?

Gadget waited for her answer patiently. She saw the hesitation and doubt swimming in the detective’s eyes. She worried that the pressure will slowly crush Chip’s spirit. He had already shown a few cracks in his normally flawless behavior. She felt she should do something to help, but what? Perhaps if she just let Chip know how much she admired him…

“Do it, Gadget.” The blonde mouse snapped her focus back to reality, not really catching what was implied. Chip repeated, more firmly this time, “Do it, Gadget. Write up the best plans you can. Don’t let the slightest chance that those bees will go back to business with Capone. Let’s cut off his supply of oil and stymie the flow of drugs.”

The genius broke into the widest smile the others have seen her wear, then darted off to her workshop. The faint sounds of scribbling and writing started through the closed door. Chip continued with his planning. “Zipper, go back with Gadget and stay with her discreetly. If McDugell’s timetables that he worked up are true, then I expect that rat to visit Queen Sparklewing today. When he’s refused, he’ll go back to Capone. Follow him and find Capone’s hideout. The sooner we find his processing plant and learn his overall scheme, the sooner we can shut him down.” The smallest of the Rangers puffed out his chest and snapped off a smart salute. He then flew off towards Gadget’s workshop to help her finish the plans faster.

The positive spirit was catching in headquarters. Dale jumped up on his feet and begged, “So, what are we gonna do, Chip? Huh, huh, huh?” Smiling at his best friend, the wily detective planned, “Tonight we go back to the docks to meet Joey. There’s something not right with how easy this whole smuggling operation is unraveling. I smell a setup. Bring all your best gimmicks to the warehouse tonight. Now let’s all get a little rest. I’ve got a feeling that we’ll need all the energy we can get tonight. We’ll take the RangerSkate for a quick getaway if necessary. I’ll write up a report for McDugell and drop it off at A.P.F. headquarters on the way to the docks.”

Nighttime at the docks can shake the nerves of even the most seasoned of adventurers. Every shadow takes the shape of your worst enemy. Every creak is the snicker of a cutthroat. Finally, you’re not sure whether you want the moon to light your way or leave you in darkness.

Monty winced as he parked the RangerSkate, bumping the back end against a building wall. To him, the sound was akin to his own his death knell. The chipmunks jumped out and began covering the vehicle with loose trash, disguising it.

Once that was done, the trio made their way stealthfully over to the Crossed Cardinals warehouse. “Crikey, mates. Oi can tell you stories ‘bout dockhands vanishin’ afta dark until the sun rises. An’ I won’t repeat meself ‘til next week.”

Dale shuddered and said, “Well, as long as you don’t talk about us.” Chip resisted the urge to bonk both of them for scaring the chipmunk heebie-jeebies out of him before they even got to the informant. “Knock it off, you two. There’s Joey.”

Sure enough, Joey was standing in front of the warehouse, next to a door constructed for animal-sized entry. Abandoned warehouses always become used by animal society, so space is at a premium. It’s not unusual for several businesses to share the same building. Owning an entire building to a single business was a sign of wealth and prestige. Crossed Cardinals was a simple, but powerful, business. Composed of almost entirely silent partners, they imported luxury items for auction. The turnaround from the sales more than paid for the shipping fees involved.

Joey opened the door and stepped inside, motioning the Rangers to follow him. He softly called out, “Follow me. See that light across the floor? The logbook is inside there.” Inside, the warehouse was mostly empty. All of the crates of cargo were stacked against the wall to make space. Chip immediately felt uneasy. This seems too easy. Wouldn’t there be a night watchman? And the crates… It’s not unheard of to stack them this way. It makes room for more incoming crates, but when were they going to get more? Tomorrow morning? Another shipment incoming before outgoing? Chip wished he had read the shipping schedules for Crossed Cardinals more closely.

“Strike me starkers. I ‘avn’t been this ‘in the dark’ since I lost tha New Dehli Inkwell Tug-‘o-War Regionals in ’92.” Monty bumped into someone in the dark, and he heard Dale grunt.

“Ouch! Monty, watch where you’re stepping!” The rotund Australian replied, “Sorry, mate. Can’t see a bloomin’ thing.” He then heard the familiar sound of Dale rummaging through his shirt pockets.

The door slammed shut behind them. Chip called out, “Joey? You still here?” Joey’s regretful voice echoed miserably from behind them, “I’m sorry guys, really I am. But you see, my family’s lives are at stake. You understand, right Monty?”

A soft, bright light erupted from the middle of the Rangers. Dale had pulled out his electric torch that Gadget had made for night missions. It was a white bulb from a set of Christmas lights. The wires had been cut and soldered back into the casing to complete the circuit. Just behind the bulb, and in front of the casing, was a circular watch battery. A spring-mounted nub served as an ‘on/off’ switch.

The light spread out, forming a hemisphere of light. Just at the edge of the hemisphere, a dozen pairs of flashing eyes stared back at the Rangers. Just then, the overhead lights clicked on, illuminating the whole warehouse.

Surrounding the Rangers in a full circle were a dozen henchmen. Six rats, dressed in dockworker’s clothing, waved broken razor blades threateningly. Six small Siamese cats, wearing red sashes, bared their razor-sharp claws.

Dale, in total shock, dropped the light to the floor. The light from the electric light went out. Just like our chances of survival, Chip groused silently. The Rangers’ eyes went straight toward Joey, drilling accusations into him. The hedgehog took off his cap and lowered his gaze. His only explanation was, “I’m so ashamed.”

One of the cats spoke sharply, “You will not be ashamed. You will follow instructions and be glad your family is safe. Now leave. This is not for your eyes.” Joey quickly exited out the front door, closing it behind him.

Monty tried in vain to control his rising panic, “M-m-mates, it looks l-loike this is it.” Dale was so scared, he couldn’t even nod his head. The cats and rats began to slowly close the circle, teasing their prey.

Chip, however, had a plan. He had planned for a double-cross, just not such a hopeless one. What do we do when we’re surrounded and outnumbered? Dale and I do what we used to do best. Chip looked slyly over to his lifetime best friend and asked in a confident tone, “Hey, Dale! Chew thinking what I’m thinking?”

Dale looked over to his lifetime best friend and saw the crazy plan hatching in his eyes. He thought, Gosh, I never would’ve tried that. Chip, you’re cuh-razy! The fear melted from his face, and he replied, “By gum, so I am!” He then pulled two pieces of Elastiblow Bubble Gum from his shirt pockets, giving one to Chip. The chipmunks began to noisily chew the thick, rubbery substance.

Monty, misunderstanding the boys’ plan for bravado, put up his best fighter’s stance and called, “Too roight, boyos! If’n they want a piece of tha Rescue Rangers, they’ll haf’ta earn it!” The circle tightened again, and the cats made ready to strike.

Suddenly, the chipmunks charged forward, blowing bubbles as fast as they could. Reacting on instinct, the cat if front of each chipmunk, sinking their claws into the bubbles. Big mistake. The bubbles popped, splattering each cat’s upper half of their body with a sheet of wet bubblegum, the other end trailing from the chewer’s mouth. Smiling and laughing, Chip took his end of the sticky mess and ran up to another cat. He threw the pink streamer into the feline’s surprised face. When he heard the satisfying splat, he taunted, “Don’t be mad, your face will stick that way!”

Dale took his end of the gum and held it like a lasso, throwing it around a nearby rat. The pink lariat gummed up his arms, gluing them to his sides. Unable to see anything, the cats pulled at the sticky messes on their faces, only to entangle their paws.

Monty gave dingo’s howl and charged his group. He swung his fist mightily, breaking the nose of a rat. A second rat circled behind him and slashed with his blade. Monty expected this, stepping out of range and ignoring that target. He dove, rolled, grabbed a rat’s tail, and stood up spinning. The rat was unable to counter Monty’s superior strength and leverage. His body went flying around in a circle before being launched into the gut of a charging cat. The impact stunned both attackers.

One of the remaining cats, close to Monty, ordered the rats, “Get the chipmunks! Leave the fat one to us.” Glad to have the chance of attacking something their own size, the remaining rats grouped together, advancing up on the chipmunks from behind.

Chip and Dale were giving their remaining cat nervous fits. Dale would run by her side, drawing her attention. Then Chip would leap up and land hard on her head, bouncing her jaw off the floor. She would try to slash Chip, who would roll out of the way. Then Dale would bite down hard on her tail. She tried to pounce on Dale, who sidestepped her and blew a raspberry right up in her face. Chip would use his pencil stub to stab her hind paw. Fury blinded her vision, and she reared up to slash with both of her claws. Unfortunately, she stepped in some of the stretched bubblegum. Her foot slipped forward, she fell backward, then her head bounced off the floor. She saw nothing but stars after that.

Monty’s luck had turned for the worse, as the two cats’ natural instincts surfaced. They used precision swipes of their claws to tire out their prey, making him panic and make mistakes. Monty’s fear of cats didn’t help either. He jumped, leaped, ducked, rolled, and just plain ran for his life around and around in circles. A pair of claw spies cut deeply into his jacket, shredding fabric and drawing blood. Another swipe from his blind spot on the left cut into his shoulder. The experienced traveler knew a bleeding wound when he felt it. If he couldn’t find safety soon to patch himself up, he was a goner.

Chip and Dale were giving each other ‘ten’ in victory over their foes. It was premature, as a group of four pounced on them from behind. The rats they had fought were not knocked out, only beaten back. The chipmunks were pounded into submission, then stood up roughly with a rat holding them prone from behind. Their eyes and mouths were already starting to swell, but they could barely see Monty’s plight.

Chip screamed out, “Hey you!” The cats, momentarily startled by the shrill cry, looked over to the source of the noise. A nearby rat punched Chip in the stomach to silence him. Dale, seizing this chance, instructed Monty, “Go get the others!” A swift rat’s fist silenced him as well.

Always one to capitalize on a twist of fate, Monty bolted for the front door. Gotta make it through. Gotta get help. Gotta get backup! He reached the door just as the cats recovered their wits. They leapt together at the front door, claws out for the death strike. Monty flung the door open and dove through. Claws dove through the open doorway to crisscross over Monty’s prone backside, missing by a millimeter. The desperate Aussie mouse crawled, then stood and bolted upright straight to the RangerSkate.

The cats wrestled with each other for a few seconds, eager to be the one to strike down the prey. Finally, one squirmed through the doorway, followed by the other. Monty leapt up into the driver’s seat. He flicked on the battery switch and the RangerSkate pulled away from the wall and headed for the street.

The cats ran on all fours, yowling their bloodlust into the night. Monty’s last nerve shattered, and he reflexively jerked the steering key left and right quickly. The subsequent shaking of the RangerSkate shook the loose garbage off the vehicle. It scattered on the street behind him. The lead cat slipped on a rotten orange peel, falling on his face. The second cat gracefully leapt over him, only to land with one foot on an apple core. The foot gave way under the rolling leftovers, and she plowed headfirst into a cluster of fertilizer-scented newspapers. The last thing she saw clearly was a headline in the sports section, “Yankees give Tigers the slip”.

Gadget and Zipper had been back at headquarters for an hour. The bees proved to be extremely eager and intelligent students. They asked endless questions and loved demonstrations. Even spending an equal time teaching Queenie’s hive was a treat. It seemed the bees really were eager to become as self-sufficient as possible. Zipper explained to her on the way back that it was similar to a sense of ‘national pride’.

Zipper had his own good news. The flower trade had went down exactly as Chip predicted. The rat, in a zoot suit no less, had arrived with several rodent slaves bearing a wheeled cart full of iron speartips and shields. When he was refused by Queen Sparklewing, he had become enraged. He tried to foolishly threaten the Queen Bee beloved by her hive. A full two squadrons of armed and armored bees surrounded him and forced him out at spearpoint. He had fled for his life, abandoning the cart and his slaves.

The airborne Ranger had immediately capitalized on the situation. He instructed the bees that if they freed the slaves, they would have earned the extra metal goods as payment. The bees immediately set to work breaking the chains from around the slaves’ necks, then proceeded to escort them to the edge of the junkyard. Gadget assured them that the junkyard animals would help them get back to their families.

Meanwhile, the noble fly had flown off at full tilt after the slimy rat. The rodent had jumped into the sewers, taking the underground route into the city. He had emerged up into an old human paint factory. It was closed for ‘renovations’. Zipper knew that these projects often took lengthy periods of time if the humans were greedy enough to wait for the cheapest contractors to come around instead of immediately hiring quality workers.

The oil-producing operation was held in an old refrigerator in the basement. Though sealed from the outside, fresh air was brought in from the sewers by way of bicycle pumps. Piles of flowers lined the inside, waiting to be pressed, boiled, dissolved, and mixed into the thin, yellowish liquid that would enhance The Sweet.

It was there that Zipper spotted Rat Capone, a lizard, and two squirrels. The others were not chained. Instead they wore lab dusters and worked on producing the oil under their own motivation. Zipper frowned at the notion of anyone willing to work for Capone, especially if it’s for money.

Capone was berating his henchman for failing, raving how this would slow down his operation. The henchman ran back through a trapdoor in the floor and into the sewers. The gangster threatened his laboratory workers to make sure the oil was the finest quality, or else they’d be short in their pay. Zipper decided it was time to head back. Memorizing the route to the factory, he returned through the sewer and met up with Gadget.

That was sometime ago, and the guys hadn’t yet returned. Gadget, seated on the living room couch, looked out of the window for the fifteenth time since she returned. It was getting really dark now. The human streetlights had already turned on. “Jeepers, Zip. Should we cook dinner and wait for the others or just go ahead and eat? Or maybe we should look for them? Or maybe I should invent a radar that will tell us where they are?”

Zipper didn’t like either choice. In the first place, Gadget still hadn’t been able to stop that taste of machine oil in anything she cooked, no matter how many times she washed her paws in full view of the others. It violated the laws of physics, but there it was. Second, he didn’t want to show up at the wrong time and blow their cover. This case was too important to mess up with amateur mistakes.

THUMP! Tiny tremors traveled up the tree trunk and were felt by the inventor and the fly. Wondering what hit the tree, the two Rangers exited the tree and looked down to the ground. They saw Monty slumped over the steering key of the RangerSkate, alone.

Bile rose up Gadget’s throat as she calculated all of the possibilities to explain the situation. 100% of them were categorized as ‘Bad’. “Zip! Fly down and open the garage! Then bring the stretcher!” The blonde genius raced down the outer edge of the tree to the ground. She gently nudged Monty over to the passenger side, checking his pulse as she did. It was faint and slow. Very bad. It was then that she saw the numerous, huge scratches soaked in blood all over his jacket.

The garage door, a hinge-mounted section of the tree bark, swung outward and up, revealing the hollow interior. Gadget drove the RangerSkate gently into the garage, then shut off the motor and closed the door. Zipper was already there, standing by with the standing stretcher, mounted on four sturdy legs terminating in smooth ball-bearings. They carefully lifted Monty onto the stretcher, hearing his groans of pain. They pushed the stretcher, which glided smoothly over most any surface, to the elevator. Zipper cranked the automatic release which dropped a counterweight inside the tree. The elevator raised up quickly and smoothly into a backroom of headquarters.

A half of an hour later, Gadget had cleaned and dressed Monty’s cuts. Monty wasn’t unconscious, but not much help while he was weak from blood loss. She had settled him out face-down on the living room couch. Zipper buzzed around his old friend impatiently, finally settling down on his shoulder to comfort him. She asked frantically, “Monty, what happened?”

The Aussie replied slowly, “Trap…It was a setup. Crossed Cardinals helps…ships in drugs.” Here he took a deep breath before resuming, “Joey’s in on tha take, but only by blackmail. Chip and Dale captured by Siamese Cats.”

Gadget gently patted his shoulder supportively. She was about to say something kind and sensitive when she saw tears streaming from Monty’s face. He sobbed, “Should’a…should’a…stayed…’an ‘elped the lads. Ordered me ta…get help. Should’a stayed. The lads moight not live.”

With that, the elder adventurer dropped off into peaceful slumber. His injuries wouldn’t let him continue any further. Gadget’s world collapsed down to a pinprick. All she could think was, Chip…Dale…

Zipper buzzed in Monty’s ear, trying to wake him. Seeing it was no good, he slumped down in despair. He started to cry also, squeaking his little heart out.

“Zipper!” The fly was shocked into reality. He looked around to find the source of the shout and found Gadget staring at him with an unearthly intensity in her eyes. She focused on him and ordered forcefully, but not unkindly, “Make a full batch of coffee, double-strong! We’re going to speed-build a rescue helicopter to save Chip and Dale!”

The sweater-clad insect squeaked a cheer and sped off to the kitchen to wrestle with Gadget’s homemade coffee-maker. The mouse rushed off to her workshop to gather her tools and a few vital supplies. Hmm…Let’s see. We’ll need those industrial rubber bands and spiral clock springs. Those sliding plastic drawers will come in handy, too. I can use those plungers and the dentist mirrors in the back. It’ll be a rush job, but I think I can pull it off. I hope Monty just needs some sleep. I’ll need him in the morning.

Late the next morning, Monty woke up. Blinking his eyes slowly, he adjusted his vision to figure out where he was. He sat up slowly, yawned, and stretched. “Blimey, ‘ow much cheese sauce did I guzzle last night? Wait a minute, I remember! Gadget!” His shout went unanswered. He stood up carefully, testing his muscles. Aside from some minor pains in his skin, he seemed to be fine.

Looking around the living room, he noticed a note tacked into the front door. He slowly walked over to read the note. It was in Gadget’s handwriting, and said, Shower and eat, then meet us in the junkyard. We need you to help rescue the boys.

Going over all the events of last night in his mind, Monty thanked whatever supernatural force that looks out for foolhardy adventurers. He went into the kitchen to grab a snack, then headed to the in-tree shower.

Soon after, the rugged Aussie climbed over the outermost pile in the junkyard. His gaze swept down to behold a mechanical marvel. Gadget and Zipper were affixing Rescue Ranger logos to the front and sides of a rodent-sized helicopter. It had a blunt nose and a large cabin interior. The fuselage tapered to a tail in the back, with a massive, four-bladed top rotor. A vertical rotor was fastened to the back, granting yaw stability, or inducing yaw to provide a quick spin if needed. There was a plastic box on each side of the middle of the cabin, their contents hidden.

A large gathering of rats and dogs had assembled all around the helicopter, clapping their paws together and whistling in appreciation. Several of the older ones were furiously scribbling notes for their own purposes.

When Monterey skidded down the junk pile to land next to Gadget, she looked up. “Monty! Where have you been? Every minute counts from now on! Are you okay to fly?” The season adventurer flexed a bicep and declared, “Roight as rain, luv. ‘Tis but a few flesh wounds! Ready when ya are!”

The overjoyed fly buzzed right into Monty’s neck for a big hug and frantically squeaked. Monty patted his friend as said, “Gyah, ha ha! Not a chance, mate! Lady Luck must want me to be eatin’ more cheese fer her! Now let’s go rescue the lads!”

The inventor slid open the side door, ushering in her two co-pilots. Inside, there was a single seat up front with a control stick and rudder pedals, a pair of sliding panels in the floor at mid-cabin, and a rear seat with a console. Above the sliding panels was a horizontal bar glued to a pair of gears, one on each side. Each gear seemed to support a coiled rope and hook. The rear console contained two vertically mounted gears, each with two opposite-end handgrips and had thick elastic bands winding around them and threading into the ceiling. Four dentist mirrors, the kind to see behind human teeth, sat around the swiveled chair and seemed to show views behind the craft, including the sides.

Monty whistled, “Too-rah-loo, luv. Looks jus’ loike a Sikorsky-58 I flew with yer Dad once.” A wide smile erupted onto Gadget’s face, clearly moved by the praise. “Really? Golly, thanks. I was initially going for an S-61 instead but I was limited by the parts available and I just couldn’t stop once I started so I hope you like it I know Dad would like it and we don’t have time to modify it so let’s get going is there any coffee left?”

The rugged adventurer’s brain took a few seconds to replay the whole speech a couple of times to make sure he didn’t miss anything. In response, he calmly turned his gaze to Zipper and asked, “Did she drink the whole thing by herself?” Chagrined, Zipper gave a hand gesture that said he had a little of it himself. Monty just rolled his eyes.

Gadget slid the door shut and jumped into the pilot’s seat. While buckling her tennis-ball helmet, she spoke, “Zipper! Man, er…fly the winch-bar! Monty, get in the support seat! You’ve got to keep winding those gears in front of you. The elastic will wind some strong spiral springs that power the rotor. Once you feel a gear resist, let go and wind the other one. There’s an automatic clutch up in the roof that will constantly select the tightest spring, then unwind it until it’s slack. You should have some time between windings to rest.”

Monty strapped himself into his seat and began winding. “Roger that, luv. Seems loike this bird actually wants ol’ Uncle Monty to ‘elp ‘er fly.” Gadget smiled at the subtle compliment, but didn’t say anything. After Monty finished winding a gear, he let it go, then started winding the next gear. The first gear seemed to start unwinding by itself. The sound of a thick, tight spring unwinding came from the roof above Monty, and the rotor began spinning. In short order, the RangerCopter lifted up into the air. Gadget pressed the right pedal with her foot. The helicopter obediently turned to the right until it faced the docks. Pushing the stick forward gently, the helicopter tilted forward slightly, moving forward and gaining momentum. Gadget prayed to gain spiritual strength, because coffee only goes so far. Hang on, guys. Help’s on the way. This should work with no problems, just like any other rescue.

A bucket of cold salt water splashed over the chipmunks’ bodies. The cold bit into their bones and banished all forms of rest from their minds. The chipmunks shook their heads awake then shivered. Dale complained, “Chip, that must be the 20th time they did that tonight. I’m sick of it.”

Chip retorted bitterly, “16th, and me too.” The cats and rats laughed cruelly at the Rangers’ plight. Beaten, hungry, and deprived of sleep, they looked as if Death coughed them up instead of furballs. The rats pounded their fists into the palms, threatening to beat them senseless at any time. Yet, they didn’t do just that even once all night. Chip had quietly informed a confused Dale that it meant that the Big Boss wanted to kill them personally. Dale quietly asked Chip to go back in time 60 seconds and choose not to tell him this time.

“What’s all dis den? Why I gotta leave my operation to baby-sit yas?” All eyes turned to the familiar figure standing just inside the warehouse. The rats all drew back respectfully, deferring to the new rat. Rat Capone exuded the air of one in charge. The cats carefully hid sneers and stayed where they were. Chip made note of this and sent his tired brain into overdrive.

One of the cats, still picking bubblegum out of his fur, hissed, “These intruders have stumbled upon our arrangement with you. You said if we ever caught Rescue Rangers that you wanted to deal with them personally.”

The rat sprinted close, his eager features undisguised. He practically drooled on his old-fashioned gangster suit as he leered nastily at the exhausted Rangers. “Oh, the pain I’m gonna do ta yous.”

The cats all spat upon the floor, disgusted with the rat boss’s lack of self-restraint. They all heard Rat Capone order, “All you cats stand guard outside. Every time those Refuse Rangers lose one of their own, they always come back. Capture them when they get here. If not, then kill them. Dis is their leader, he’s mine.” The felines were cold, tired, hungry, and denied a juicy morsel as compensation. They did not disguise their anger this time. They swiped their air in front of them with their claws and hissed. “We do not take your orders, meal. We only do as you say because our supreme leaders wish it.” With that, they went outside to stand guard.

When the doors closed, Rat Capone gave a great belly laugh. “Ha, those overgrown fleabags got nuttin’ and dey know it! I’m calling the shots, ‘cause their ‘great leaders’ work fer me!” The assembled rats cheered and whistled in appreciation of their leader.

Capone drew close to Chip. The heroic detective could just about feel the foul breath scorch his nostrils. The ugly rat sneered, “Yer days are finished, tree-crawler! You stumbled too close dis time, an’ now yer gonna get burned!”

Dale tried to summon up his courage. Chip will come up with a plan, I just know it. I can’t have him worry about me too, or it’ll slow him down. “Too close to what, you cat toy? Your doily import service?”

The boss mobster backhanded Dale, splitting his lip. He barked, “Shaddap! You’re in so deep…uh, you…you can’t see daylight!” Chip snorted, then explained, “You’re buying Sweet’n’Sour from outside the city and smuggling it into the city through the docks. The Crossed Cardinals is your front that makes so much legitimate profit, that the ‘unfortunate loss’ of your drug crates by dock thieves is just soaked up by the bottom line. The Siamese Twins provide muscle and permission to use their territory for a percentage of the drugs. You use flower extracts to create an oil that makes the pure narcotic easy to use and impossible to break the habit. You sell The Sweet to kids and teenagers to form a secret army of crime that brings you gold and jewels in exchange for more poison. They’re so ashamed that they naturally hide it from any adults. At the right time, you let the adults share it like a party drug and you have the entire city enslaved. Anyone not taking the drug will be run out of town, and you’ll be king. Did I miss anything?”

Rat Capone was speechless. His jaw hung open and swung freely. “How…How…How did yous figure it out?!?!” Chip yawned, exaggerating his fatigue, though not by much. He mentioned off-handedly, “We found your drugs and had them analyzed. A suspicious report of field bees using unusual weapons led us to investigate. We figured out that you needed the bees to harvest Carolina Lilies because the human who owns the greenhouse isn’t afraid of rats, but lets bees pollinate the flowers. We taught the bees to smelt their own iron. You’ll get no more flowers unless you’re willing to sacrifice rats’ lives for every bloom.”

The assembled rats seemed to lose their bravado. They exchanged glances, wondering if this racket is worth the effort anymore. Capone’s face burned red from his temper. The lilies!!! “Dat was why Louie came back empty! I thought he was holdin’ out! D’ere ain’t no more lilies! This will stop production until I get more! ARRRRRGH! Yer dead, chipmunk! You’ll be feedin’ the fishes! And I’ll push you off myself!”

Every sentient being naturally recoils when they learn of their impending demise. Chip hid his shock with every once of willpower and kept talking, “Finding this place was easy, Capone. You did know that a Harbormaster’s records are public access, right? How much are the Twins getting from you, Rat? 10%? Off the top?”

Capone felt like throwing up, only he skipped breakfast. He had nothing to bring up. Instead, he fumed, “15%, after refining. They drive a hard bargain.” Dale chuckled, even he could figure out that Capone was not getting as much profit from this deal that he could have negotiated.

Chip smirked and said, “I don’t know exactly how much you spend on refining, but if you pay workers for making the flower oil, then you must just barely pay off the shipments. You must be paying them. People coerced don’t make such fine quality oil.”

Dale could no longer resist. He joked, “You go through all this trouble to poison kids, and don’t even make a decent profit. You dirty rat!”

Capone slapped Chip and Dale several times, “Shaddap! Shaddap! SHADDAP!! Yous don’t talk ‘less I order ya! I AM making a profit! I took these drugs on loan, see! I just got the last shipment tonight. All I gotta do is water down the oil and sell off the last batches, then I can pay off the dealers with the last exchange!”

Chip’s brain flooded his being with endorphins, taking in every word Capone spilled. If I can only get Dale outta here! We can shut down the whole operation with a plan! But, we gotta get free first! Where the heck are the others?

The RangerCopter flew in fast and low, swerving in-between the buildings like it was navigating a canyon testing course. Following Monty’s directions, Gadget had the Crossed Cardinals warehouse directly in her sight. Gadget reported to her crew, “Target in sight. Multiple hostiles detected. Zipper, deploy the cannons!”

Zipper saluted, then flew over to a section of the wall just opposite of the outside plastic box. He pushed with all his might, and a piece of the wall gave. It would be more accurate to say the plastic box slid out of it housing, revealing the barrel from a paintball rifle. The box slid out an inch until a single click was heard. Zipper then repeated the action on the other side of the helicopter, revealing another barrel. He then stood by the sliding panels in the floor.

Gadget gently thumbed the trigger switch she added to the control stick. THUMP! The RangerCopter recoiled just a slight bit and a pair of bright red spheres sped away from the cannons.

The cats’ sharp hearing could detect the approach of a helicopter from very far away. They stood at the ready, claws out. The appearance of the tiny helicopter confused the cats, as they wondered if they were hallucinating. Suddenly, two of the cats jerked back, their torsos feeling a sharp pain.

A cat looked down at her chest, seeing a bright red stain spread out over her fur. Her brain processed the information and came up with only one answer. “I’ve been shot! Help me!”

Gadget watched the two cats react with fear and panic. Her passive expression blossomed with a dark fury and she intoned, “Give me back my chipmunks!” She tugged the control stick left and right, using the pedals to control her turning rate. Pulling the trigger several times, the air filled with the red shot.

The assembled cats yelled in panic and tried to flee, only to be struck on all parts of their bodies. Sharp lances of pain cross-cross their nervous systems as all higher brain functions bowed to pure animal instinct. SURVIVE! The cats fled, limping the whole way. Any dockworkers who happened to be in the way panicked at the sight of a red-smeared cat screaming and coming their way. Within seconds, the entire area was rife with panic.

Monty called out, horrified at what he saw, “Gadget, you didn’t load them things with anythin’ stronger than plungers, didja?” He wondered what horrible cosmic forces could warp and twist his little Gadget into a cold-hearted machine of pure war and terror.

“Golly, no Monty. They’re just paintballs. Sure, they sting, but it’s not like they can break any bones at this range.” Monty wiped his brow, Oh, well then. Strike that.

Gadget aimed for a high window and called out, “Brace for impact! Zipper, ready the fogbombs!” The crew had hardly anytime to wonder what she meant when the RangerCopter drove right through the closed window.

Meanwhile, Capone had been ready to throw Dale to the mercy of his thugs when he heard the awful yelling and screaming outside. “What is dat racket?! How can I torment my captives if I can’t be heard?”

The cries of panic started to subside, only to be replaced by a fast, rhythmic sound. It got louder with each second. Dat sounds like a…


Broken glass rained down over half of the warehouse floor. The rats all began to scatter, trying to shield their heads with their arms. Chip and Dale looked up with hope and saw the Rescue Rangers logo on the sides of the helicopter and cheered, “Yee-haw! Get’em, Gadget!”

Two panels on the underside of the helicopter opened into the cabin. First one, then a second ‘bomb’ dropped. Everybody flinched when they saw the explosive about to hit the floor.

The devices were Gadget’s ‘fogbombs’, patent pending. Each was a cylindrical canister, hollow and half-filled. The walls were made of a super-strong composite material. Inside the walls of the canister was a complicated network of high-duty heaters and explosive charges. The heaters are super-charged by a dedicated battery on-board the helicopter and bring the water past boiling temperature quickly. The explosive charges were keyed by an impact ‘button’ on the nose of the bomb. On the opposite end of the canister, there were fins to aerodynamically guide the bomb to land on the button. The closing of the circuit would detonate the charges, freeing the superheated steam into a much larger and cooler environment. Instant fog.

BANG! BANG! A huge fogbank completely enveloped the bottom half of the warehouse’s interior. Rat Capone and his thugs, robbed of sight and believing they were being gassed and scattered without thinking, slamming into nearby crates.

Inside the RangerCopter, Gadget cried out, “Zipper, go!” Zipper released the safety on the rescue ropes and pulled them down into the fog. He memorized the chipmunks’ locations before the bombs hit and flew off into the fog. Locating Chip and Dale quickly, he wrapped a rescue line around each of them, securing them with the hook. He buzzed back up into the RangerCopter.

The downdraft from the whirling blades of the top rotor churned the fog, equalizing the air pressures. The water vapor began to be absorbed into the air, turning invisible. The chipmunks were becoming visible!

Zipper reached the interior of the helicopter and grabbed the winch-bar. Going for broke, he just aimed his body ‘forward’ and flew at top speed. The winch-bar guided his flight into a circular pattern, winding the gears. The chipmunks began to lift off the floor.

Rat Capone, a tad sharper than the other rats, stopped his panic and realized something. Hey! My lungs ain’t burnin’! I can see! What kinda gas is this? He looked back only to see his prisoners being rescued. It ain’t gas. It’s a trick! “Stop it, yous guys! The Rangers are getting’ away! Get them!”

Capone’s thugs, under the firm guidance of their leader, started to realize the same thing. Upon getting their bearings, they also spotted the departing Rangers. They pulled out their jagged razor blades and threw them at Chip and Dale.

The blades missed the chipmunks, but struck the underside of the helicopter. THUNK! CLINK! Monty paused in his cranking to look into his mirrors. They all showed clear. “Uh, oh. Gadget! We lost the fog!”

Gadget, wondering what those metallic sounds were, startled at that new piece of information. “Oh shoot! That’s a problem.” She frantically searched around herself for a solution to this complication. All she saw was the broken window and rafters. Her mind-bashingly high I.Q. quickly came up with a plan that had an 87.2% chance of success and a Crazy Factor of 9/10. Perfect!

“Keep winding, Zipper!” She pulled the stick back and to the left, pushing the left pedal. The helicopter spun around and lifted up and the same time, heading for the window. Once the RangerCopter was on the right heading, she straightened out the controls and flew right through the window.

Unfortunately, the laws of physics decided that since Gadget was no longer spinning, the momentum was transferred to the chipmunks. Chip and Dale spun around, getting tangled and hog-tied together. They also saw the broken window, particularly the shards of broken glass. The window seemed like the maw of some monstrous cat from the nether-realms. They screamed for their lives, saved from Rat Capone only to be fed to fickle Chance. “AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!”

The RangerCopter shot through the window, trailing chipmunks all the way. The sound of organic surfaces shredding followed the RangerCopter as it headed back towards the park. Underneath the helicopter, Chip and Dale inspected their bodies for bleeding. The only thing ripped was their clothing, including a nasty scratch on Chip’s hat. Simultaneously relieved and angered, they yelled in unison, “Gadget!!!”

Meanwhile, back in the warehouse, Rat Capone had taken to chasing his thugs around, threatening to beat them for stress relief. Finally, the last one had escaped, leaving him all alone.

“Those darned, interfering, nut-munchers! Wrecked my operation, discovered my contacts, humiliated me, and now they’re free to mess me up more! I gotta stop ‘em from stopping me make good on my payment! If I don’t pay…”

Capone shuddered, as visions of what he’d seen done to those who do not pay their debts to the Lords Down South. He racked his slimy brain, trying to come up with a plan, any plan to get the Rangers off his back for a while. If only they weren’t so loved by those spineless peons they protect…

Inspiration hit Rat’s brain like a lightning bolt from the Underworld. A plan formed in his twisted imagination. He tweaked it here and there, maximizing the terror and death. Satisfied with his idea, he left the warehouse. He had messages to send and flunkies to order. “Revenge is such a ‘hot’ idea, heh heh.”

During the flight, Zipper had untangled the chipmunks and reeled them into the cabin. He closed the sliding panels. Chip yelled, “Gadget, what were you thinking?! You almost sliced Dale and me to ribbons!”

Gadget, sounding almost subdued, replied back, “Well golly, Chip. I’m sorry, but I thought you were in danger. Those rats started throwing knives.” Thinking about what fixed shards of broken glass cutting into her friends, and comparing them against the projected damage of a smaller stab wound, she flinched. “I’ll do better next time.”

Chip’s anger ebbed hearing Gadget’s miserable tone. He walked up and patted her shoulder, “It’s okay, Gadget. We’re not hurt. Well, our clothes will never be the same, but we’re okay. But wait until we’re inside before trying that again, okay?”

The blonde inventor looked back at Chip, regaining her smile. She chirped, “Roger, Wilfurry! Next stop, home. I got the perfect place to hide the RangerCopter, too. I’ll settle it behind the shrub near the base of the tree. No one ever looks there. Maybe I can erect a temporary structure to conceal it and provide camouflage.”

Dale had been staring at everything inside the helicopter. “Wowie zowie! This is great! It’s like the Pelican of Peace stealth transport that the U.N. representatives use in Kablammo Man Issues #128 through #341!” Gadget wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not, so she just ignored the comment.

Soon enough, she settled down inside the cluster of shrubberies only a few meters away from the base of the oak tree that served as Rescue Ranger Headquarters. Monty finally gave out, huffing and puffing from all the effort winding the gears. “I ‘ope oi don’ ‘ave ta do that again today, luv. Me ticker’s tickin’ harder than the ‘copter’s clutch.”

Cheerfully, the pilot removed her helmet and replied, “No matter! Welcome…”

CRACK! CRUNCH! The hard ground underneath the RangerCopter broke under the weight and gave way, revealing a natural cavern beneath the grass. The RangerCopter, and of course all occupants, experienced freefall for a few seconds.

BANG! The helicopter stopped abruptly on a flat piece of bedrock. The landing struts buckled and the belly of the vehicle slapped against the ground. Two chipmunks, two mice, and a fly bounced around inside the helicopter cabin before coming to a dizzy halt, sprawled out on the floor.

“…home”, Gadget finished lamely. Monty mumbled, “Oi, I need a wedge o’ Brie.”

Dragging their feet, the Rangers walked into headquarters. They had used the elevator in a sudden attack of laziness. Since Gadget was the least damaged from the emergency rescue, she volunteered to help bandage up Chip and Dale. Their faces were puffy from the beatings they received. Zipper hovered slowly into the living room, supporting a heavy pitcher of cool water, which Gadget gratefully took.

There was an energetic knock on the front door, followed by the entrance of a very happy female bat. “Everybody, are you here? Oh, there you are! Wait ‘til you hear what happened to me today!”

Monty nodded her, “Good ta see ya, Foxy. You should hear about our punch-up, too.” Foxglove’s eyes went wide and searched for favorite chipmunk. Dale smiled his lop-sided grin which was even more lop-sided given that one side of his face was at a different altitude compared to the other side.

“Dale! What happened?” The red-nosed chipmunk shrugged his shoulders and replied, in what he hoped was a good ‘tough-guy’ voice, “Oh, nothin’ much. Just got the tar beat out of us all night long after smashing up several cats and rats.”

The bat launched herself at the Hawaiian-shirt wearing ‘munk of her dreams and tackled him to the floor in the tightest hug her muscles could generate. She would protect him with her love. “Urgh, uhlm…Can’t breathe!” Or suffocate him, whichever came first.

Chip chuckled at the gratuitous display of affection. Gadget dabbed at his wounds with the water, then gently wrapped them in gauze. Foxglove, seeing how Gadget was helping Chip, grabbed the rest of the supplies. She splashed the whole pitcher of water on Dale’s head and then wrapped his head in so much gauze that he looked like a mummy.

The rest of the Rangers laughed outright at that. Dale got up, then acted as if his joints were old and creaky. He raised his arms and slowly chased Foxglove around the couch. This got everyone rolling around on the floor, uncontrollably laughing. Once the joke was over, and Dale had loosened his bandages somewhat, everyone told the story of their night’s adventure to Foxglove.

“Wow! I had no idea you were so heroic, Dale!”, cooed Foxglove. The others cleared their throats. Foxglove, realizing her faux pas, hastily added, “Oh, you guys did good, too.” Dale laughed out loud at that one. He asked, “How did your mission go, Foxy?”

The bat stood up, acting out her story as well as telling it. “Oh, it was wonderful. At first, I was really bored because I kept going over the same places I went to this morning. The birds were really glad to hear about the description of that mink, ‘cause they didn’t want their hatchlings going anywhere near him. Still, it was boring until I got back to the comic book store because there was that mink again, still at it!”

Chip jumped up at that, loudly asking, “He was back? Was he alone? Did you call the A.P.F. for help?” Monty added concernedly, “You didn’t try to take ‘im on all by yerself, didja Foxy?”

Foxglove jumped up on the back of the couch. “Even better! I saw a flight of birds circling over the store, looking for a place to rest for a bit. I called them over and told them I was a Rescue Ranger asking for help! When I told them about the mink, they got real mad. Apparently, a couple of their fledglings had gotten hold of some of that mink’s drugs. They were really mad!”

She leaped into the air and landed in front of the Rangers, who were rapt with attention. She continued, “I organized them into squadrons and we dove at the mink from different directions. We harassed him until he fled. He jumped down an open sewer hole again, but this time we pursued. I kept track of the squadron as they passed each sewer grate, directing the others. The ones in the sewer followed the mink as he lead us right to a meeting of six others! I told one bird to get as many A.P.F. as possible while he circled outside the entrance to their meeting place, which was underneath a human high school! When the A.P.F. arrived, we tossed so many acorns and rocks that they didn’t put up much of a fight against the A.P.F. We all volunteered to go to the station to give statements and McDugell even shook my wing! He said that was first-class Rescue Ranger work if he ever saw it! I just got out now. I’m so excited!”

The Rangers whooped and cheered for Foxglove as they heard the news. A whole group of drug sellers had been cleaned off the streets for good. They knew that if McDugell had anything to say about it, those criminals wouldn’t get back on the street until they were gray from old age.

It was decided to have a celebratory lunch to enjoy the fruits of their battles against crime. Monty made his spicy three-cheese pizza, which Dale dipped into cool ranch dressing.

Hours later, the Rangers were resting in the living room, recovering from their fatigue. Chip was at the side table, writing up another report for McDugell. Monty was telling everyone another of his adventures.

“There I was, on fire an’ rollin’ in tha Sahara sand. That foul skunk, Reginald Whitepaw, had stolen tha solid gold figurine of Ahmen-Tout. It looked loike ‘e was gonna get away clean. Suddenly, me camel sensed me distress and drew back a colossal spit. She aimed loike a ‘owitzer and launched her payload. Tha spitball struck ol’ Reggie roight upside ‘is ‘ead. He lost ‘is balance an’ tumbled down inta tha sand, roight into the waitin’ paws of ol’ Monterey Jack. Needless ta say, that Bedouin Tribe of desert mice were able ta put the spirits of their ancestahs roight back ta sleep. You shoulda ‘eard those creepy footsteps in tha desert night. They sounded loike…”

Knock-knock-knock! Knock!! Knock!! Knock!! Knock-knock-knock!

Confused, the Aussie said, “That’s not ‘ow it went.”

Knock-knock-knock! Knock!! Knock!! Knock!! Knock-knock-knock!

Dale jumped up and ran to the front door. He opened it, revealing a very familiar woodpecker. Before Gadget could berate him for pecking on their door, he cried out, “Emergency! Goldsmith’s pet store is on fire! Main street! The A.P.F. needs help evacuating the animals because the ground floor is completely blocked off from rubble!”

Chip began barking out orders, “Gadget, take the RangerPlane and head for the pet store roof! Dale, go with her and man the plungers to pull out the second-story windows!”

Gadget interrupted, arguing, “Chip, those bigger animals can’t make that jump! They’d smash all their legs falling! We need to airlift everyone out!”

Chip debated back, “Neither of our planes can carry larger animals off the roof without crashing!”

Gadget retorted, “The RangerCopter can! Lifting both of you and the crew didn’t even stress the rotors!”

Chip yelled, “The RangerCopter crashed! The landing gear is broken! You can’t even land to pick up anyone!”

Gadget got a defiant look in her eyes and declared, “Then I’ll fix it! Go ahead, I’ll catch up!” With that, she sped to her workshop to gather her toolbox and then used the elevator to descend to the tree base.

The leader of the Rangers grabbed his hat and tugged it down over his face in frustration. He took a deep breath and amended, “Okay, okay, okay! Dale, fly the RangerPlane to the store and carry as many animals as you can! I’ll take the RangerWing. Zipper and Foxglove, fly on ahead and guide those animals to the roof! Monty, you better go with Gadget. She’ll need you to wind the rotors.” The Rangers nodded, each taking to their assignments.

Minutes later, Foxglove and Zipper arrived at the pet store. It was pandemonium on the street outside. The A.P.F. had partially cracked open a nearby fire hydrant. A single stream of water spurted through the air to land several feet away. Many animals volunteered to form a bucket brigade from that one stream. The front door had collapsed, taking some of the second story with it. It was clear to the two Rangers that dousing the fire on the outside wouldn’t help at all.

They flew up to the roof, finding the doorway leading down into the building. Zipper flew inside the lock and picked it open. Foxglove grabbed the doorknob and turned it, opening the door. The pair flew down the interior stairwell and followed it to the ground floor. They noticed that they were in some backroom behind the main display area. Zipper found the door leading toward the front area, and their pair unlocked it as well.

Upon opening the door, they saw the chaos inside. Most of the animals had bashed their way out of their cages. The birds were circling overhead, squawking and chirping madly. Dogs and cats were growling and hissing insults at each others. Rodents of every time were climbing and running around everywhere. A pair of snakes battered themselves against the walls of their terrariums, trying to vain to break the glass.

Foxglove yelled at the top of her lungs, “STOP!!!” All the animals stopped and stared at her. Too scared by fire to feel shy, Foxglove instructed, “Follow us to the roof! It’s clear there!”

All of the free animals immediately stampeded into the backroom and up the stairs. Zipper lead them to safety up onto the roof, he began sorting them by size and then into evacuation groups.

As Foxglove turned to leave, she heard the frantic cries of the snakes. “Pleasssssse!! Don’t leave ussssssss behind! We’ll never harm another bat for assssssss long asssssss we live!” The female bat’s heart broke as she heard the misery in the predators’ voices. How would I feel if it was me in those cages? Even if they betray me, I’ve still got to try. I’m a Rescue Ranger.

She then made up her mind. She went back for the snakes. She flew up and unlatched the top hatches of the terrariums. The snakes slithered out gratefully, “Thank you, missss! We owe our livessss to you!”

Foxglove called out, “Follow me! We’ve got to go two flights of stairs upwards. I won’t leave you until we all get to the top!”

Chip arrived with the RangerWing, not even slowing the props by much as he took on his first load of passengers. He took off and flew them to the rooftop of the two-story office building across the street.

As Chip flew back to settle down again, Dale arrived. He didn’t quite land. Instead, he hovered over the edge of the roof. He put the controls on ‘autopilot’ to maintain his position, then he manipulated the plunger feet to shoot out and stick to the next building over, a few feet lower than the roof which stuck them on the top frame of an open window. Even though the flames began to claim the second story of the pet store, the ropes remained sturdy. Dale called out, “All healthy climbers slide down the ropes!”

All of the mice, a pair of small tabby cats, and the two snakes moved across the ropes in through the open window. Chip called out as he arrived for his next load of animals, “Good thinking, Dale!” As the last of the small animals jumped into the RangerPlane, he called back, “Thanks! I saw it in that pirate movie with Jerry Deep last week!” He retracted the plungers and took off.

The remaining animals were two full-size dogs and their three new puppies. The male asked loudly, “What about us?!” Foxglove tried to calm them down, “They’ll be back! Trust me!” The female growled back, “They can’t carry us, they’re too small. What about our puppies?!”

Suddenly, the sound of rotors filled the air. The dogs looked, but they didn’t trust their eyes. The male asked, “Sweetheart, is that a tiny helicopter or am I seeing things from breathing too much smoke?” His mate responded, “If you’re seeing things, then I’m seeing them too.”

The RangerCopter came in and hovered above the dogs on the roof. Zipper trumpeted and flew up through the open sliding panels in the floor. “Zippah! Glad to see ya, mate!”, Monty called from his seat in the back.

Gadget, up in the pilot’s seat, yelled, “Zipper, tell Chip and Dale to carry the puppies! Use the rescue ropes to latch the dogs!” Zipper saluted, then fed the ropes through the floor panels. He then exited the helicopter and grabbed the ropes, flying them to the roof.

The RangerPlane and RangerWing were just landing so everyone could plan. Zipper immediately buzzed for everyone’s attention. As all eyes turned to him, he squeaked and gestured the plan to everyone. The dogs balked, “No way!” “That’s crazy!”

Chip shouted, “You want your puppies to live?!” That silenced the dogs, who were more concerned for their puppies than for themselves. The fedora-wearing detective pointed at the eldest pup and shouted, “Get your brother and sister over to Dale, then you jump in with me!” He pointed over to the RangerPlane. The pups immediately leapt to obey and soon both aircraft were slowly winging their way across the street.

The flames consumed the second story, sending tongue of flame up onto the edges of the roof. Zipper hurriedly wrapped each rope around a dog’s torso, under their shoulders and using the hook to secure them.

The building trembled slightly, as the ground-floor supports started giving way. Zipped and Foxglove flew up into the RangerCopter. Zipper shouted a garbled word, and Gadget pulled back on the control stick. The RangerCopter strained under the weight of the two dogs.

The female dog panicked, “I knew it wouldn’t work! We’re too heavy!” The male gulped and prepared to accept his destiny. “Well, if we can’t take off, then I’ll bite through my rope.” His mate screamed, “Don’t you dare! I can’t raise our puppies without you!”

The roof shuddered, cracks appearing in the walls. The rescue helicopter pulled up again, even harder. The rotor groaned in complaint, but held fast. The dogs lifted ever so slowly into the air, an inch above the roof.

BOOM! CRASH! The entire building collapsed into a raging inferno. The dogs whimpered at the sight of a grisly fate waiting below them.

The RangerCopter pulled back, flying backwards slowly and holding its altitude. Inside, the cabin, Monty’s muscles felt as hot as the fire they tried to escape from. He growled in pain, but kept cranking. The structure supporting the top rotor creaked, and a popping sound froze everyone’s blood. The gears seemed to grow hot and unwind faster than normal.

Everyone on the ground saw the feat of skill and desperation in the sky above them. Someone started clapping, then another joined them. Another and another agreed with the sentiment. Soon the group moved towards the office building, the applause increasing with each foot traveled across the street. Soon all the animals were applauding and whistling in congratulations as the dogs cross the threshold of the other roof.

Zipper buzzed the ‘all clear’ signal, and Gadget set the canines down roughly onto the roof. The dogs wriggled out of their harnesses and raced over to rejoin their puppies near the landed Ranger vehicles.

Everyone, Rangers included, applauded Gadget and her RangerCopter. It had passed it’s ‘trial by fire’ with flying collars. Chip ran up to the cockpit window and placed his paws around his mouth, megaphone-style. He yelled, just barely over the sound of the rotors idling, “Meet us at St. Octavia Hospital! We need to bring some burned animals there!” Gadget gave the thumbs-up and told Monty, “Crank ‘er up! We’re taking a few to the hospital!”

Monty walked over to open the side doors. A pair of mice, charred from direct contact with the fire, stumbled into the cabin. Monty saw how they cradled ruined forelegs and dangling paws to their chests. The exhausted Aussie suddenly had a flashback from his days of service in the Great War.

A pile of sandbags exploded before him. Dirt and burlap showered his body, knocking him on his back. The stench of burned fur and flesh filled his nostrils, and all he could do was pray that it wasn’t him that was dying.

A familiar paw grabbed his and pulled him to his feet. “Come on, Monty! Pull it together!” The sound of propellers and machine guns filled his ears. He grabbed Geegaw and flung both of them off to the side, behind the wreckage of a ruined tank. The ground they previously stood on bubbled and splattered like molten cheese set to boil.

Geegaw Hackwrench, his allied liaison and friend, gave him an appreciative smile before leading him around the back side of a bombed hanger. The two ran over to a large rodent-sized bomber plane, its propellers spinning. It had open side-bay doors, with a mounted machine gun in each bay. His friend tugged him towards the plane, calling over his shoulder, “Jump in, Monty! We need to take down that attacking plane, then escort a medivac helicopter to base! Those wounded need us!”

Monty realized that Gadget was staring at him. He recovered shakily, saying, “Uh, yeah, luv. Gotcha.” He closed the doors and returned to his station. He started cranking like mad, ignoring the protests from his strained muscles.

“Clear the way! We’ve got two more burn victims! Get Dr. Slipskin into surgery, stat!” A male raccoon, wearing nurse’s scrubs, rolled the gurney into the Emergency Room from the outdoors. Gadget and Monty held the emergency room doors open for him as he sped inside. Zipper followed directly after.

The male raccoon sped off down the right-hand hallway, leaving the two worried mice in the Emergency Room. The rest of the Rangers were here, having dropped off their passengers sooner. Gadget hugged Chip, then Dale. “Guys, we did it! We saved them all!”

Monterey gave Gadget a crushing hug, lifting her off her feet. “You really pulled off a miracle, Gadget-luv! Kit-bashing that ‘copter loike you did, it was poetry in fast-forward!” Gadget blushed as she was put down on her feet.

One of the nurses, a female vole, ran up to the group and frantically asked, “Are you the Rescue Rangers?” Chip replied with pride, “That’s us! What’s up?” The nurse tugged on Chip’s sleeve, begging, “Several of the patients just went into cardiac arrest. We need all staff to help them, but we can’t leave the Recovery Ward unmanned. Could you please help the patients for a while?”

Chip looked to the other Rangers for their consent. He didn’t want to volunteer them if they felt they couldn’t do it. The other Rangers looked back at him with expressions that screamed the need to help balanced with the anxiety of doubt. The leader of the Rangers looked back to the nurse and asked, “What do we do?”

Relieved, the nurse started to jog down the right-hand hallway, shouting over her shoulder, “Just get them what they want, and if something happens, just shout for me, Nurse Crookpaw!”

With heavy sighs, the Rangers walked down the left-hand hallway, and entered a room marked, “Recovery Ward”. They imagined scores of dead and dying, moaning for miracles and shouting hatred toward the heavens. Who could blame them after what they witnessed at the pet store?

Inside was not nearly as bad as they imagined, but there was work to be done. There were two dozen animals inside, laying in cots. Some were heavily bandaged. Some had IV’s dripping strange liquids into their bodies. A few had the curtains drawn, but for privacy or the peace of mind of the others?

The Rangers separated according to some unspoken plan, and they each picked a group of beds and began asking what they could do to help. Soon, the room was a flurry of activity. Water was fetched, pillows were fluffed, sheets were changed, and animals were helped to the bathroom.

Gadget took the back corner of the room, where there were two beds curtained off together. She approached the curtain hesitantly, afraid of what she might see. Her imagination conjured up all sorts of horrible things. Her fingers shook as she touched the curtain timidly. She breathed deeply, screwing up her courage. She gently, but firmly, pulled the curtain aside and asked, “Hello in there? Do you need any help?”

What she saw sickened her worse than any of the burn victims she’d seen today. There were two beds, each contained an animal that looked sickly and shriveled. The first held a lizard, his sweater stained with vomit stains, presumably his own. His skin, normally a bright green, had faded to a dull grayish-green. An IV drip of saline kept his blood regular. The other creature was so much worse.

It used to be a huge musclemouse, strong and confident. Now the mouse’s muscles seemed to have almost totally deflated. He lay in a cocoon of his own grayish skin. All of his fur had fallen out, and he lay trembling. A nearby IV dripped a sickly-looking yellow fluid into the creature’s abdomen and neck. A second IV dripped saline into his veins at six points. His eyes were open, darting here and there, as if he were watching things only he could see.

The lizard whimpered upon seeing Gadget, crying openly, “Please…don’t hurt us. We’re sick.” Gadget nearly cried herself at this piteous display. They don’t even recognize me. What happened to them? Sugar Ray Lizard and Arnold Mousenegger… She patted Lizard on the shoulder supportively and said, “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m here to help. Don’t you remember me?”

The lizard narrowed his eyes, hoping it would help his vision. His brain just didn’t want to work today, but it did spit back out a name. “Hey, ain’t you one of those Rescue Rodents?” Arnold called out in panic, “Rescue Rangers? Where?” His head whipped around left and right, as if searching for the mentioned animals.”

Gadget’s eyes started shedding tears as she tucked lizard’s blanket around him. She nodded, and found herself hoarse. She swallowed her dry mouth and her voice cracked, “What happened?”

Lizard got a wild look in his eyes and grabbed the blonde mouse’s arm. Gadget gasped in surprise. Is he gonna hurt me? After I tried to help him? Oh, no…

Sugar Ray begged her, “Please…stop Capone. He’s nuts!”

Gadget could only dumbly ask, “What?”

The desperate lizard repeated, “Capone is nuts! When he found out about that drug, he just had to have it! He was gonna sell it for gold, but then he saw it work. He saw how it fried the brains of any unlucky stiff who took it. That wasn’t good enough for him. H-he wanted to get them hooked for life! He paid some foreigners to mix something to make it usable. Those quacks found out about the flowers and got some. The new stuff was twice as potent and ten times as addictive! You don’t wanna stop using it, see? That’s the beauty of it!”

Gadget got a dark, cold feeling in the pit of her stomach. She mentioned, “You act as if you know. Did you ever take The Sweet?”

The former antagonist’s eyes peeled wide as he nearly yelled, “Who do you think were the guinea pigs for Capone’s new formula?! Me and Arnold! He tested it on us! He used a single dose on me every day, and this is what happened.”

Arnold suddenly started convulsing, flailing his tubes everywhere. He coughed hard, rattling his lungs, spraying a little red-flecked foam over his chest. Then as soon as it started, it stopped. His eyes rolled around in his head like pinballs. Gadget nearly bolted out of the ward, out of the emergency room, out of the hospital. She nearly sped right into the RangerCopter, flew it directly into the tree. She nearly ran into headquarters and bolted herself in her room to whimper under her bed forever.

But she didn’t. Instead, she searched the room and found several cloths. She ripped them into strips and kept the last one whole. She used the strips of cloth to tie Arnold’s arms and legs to the bed frame by his wrists and ankles. She tied them double-knotted just to be sure. The last cloth was used to wipe his mouth and chest clean. That was all she could do, but she wanted to do more. She resolved to invent cheap and reliable equipment for hospitals in these cases.

Sugar Ray looked over to his companion mournfully, “Hang in there buddy. You just gotta hang on. If you go, I’ll have no one.”

Gadget was so moved, she hiccupped twice. “Is that what happened to him, too?”

Sugar Ray spat a disgusting glob onto the floor next to himself and said, “Ha! That wouldn’t be ‘proper testing’, now would it? The quacks said Arnold needed half again as much for the same effect. You know what Capone did? He gave him three times the dose! This is what happens when we’re on it for a week!”

Gadget’s jaw dropped. “A week?!?! That’s all?”

Lizard nodded, the movement aching his neck. “Just a week. After that, neither of us could move much, so he dropped us in the sewer. We floated for a day until some scavengers found us. It was a miracle that they called the A.P.F. instead of leaving us. We would have left them.” He began to cry in earnest.

Gadget found a clean corner of the cloth and dabbed the lizard thug’s eyes. After a case of the sniffles, he continued, “Gadget, promise me that you’ll stop him. He’s crazy. The whole city is doomed if you guys don’t stop him. You know why it’s called Sweet’n’Sour? When you take it, you taste sweetness at first, like liquid sugar flowing down your tongue. Then you start seeing things, really nice things, you know? After a while, they turn into really, really bad things. Things that scare even me. That’s when you taste sourness, like blocks of sour being slowly welded onto your tongue. The pain drives you nuts! You’ll do anything, ANYTHING to stop it! Nothin’s sacred anymore.”

The inventor dumbly nodded, unable to say anything. She recorded every fact, storing it in her brain. She’d share it with Chip later, but now it was time for mercy, not analysis. She spent the rest of her time tending to Arnold and Sugar Ray, who were very light in their requests.

A couple of hours later, the Rangers, exhausted but feeling good, left the Recovery Ward. Nurse Crookpaw had returned with more staff to relieve them. Not really speaking, they walked back to the Emergency Room, and headed to the double doors to the outside. Dale and Foxglove walked paw in wing, sharing the glow they felt.

“There they are!” The Rangers startled at the sound of this accusation. They were used to praise and thanks, but not this. A group of animals, all family and friends, all sat in the waiting benches. Their faces were streaked with tears and soot. One of the mice pointed her finger at the group of heroes.

The Rangers stood still, hoping to resolve this quickly. The mouse jumped up and screamed, “We all heard him! That rat in the suit, he said he was burning our home because of these people! The Refuse Rangers! Why couldn’t you just stay out of his way?!”

Chip, enraged by this statement, yelled back, “Hey, get your act together, lady! That rat’s selling drugs! We gotta stop him or the whole city’s doomed!” The mouse, tearing her headfur, yelled, “Oh, so it’s my fault for caring about my son! If it weren’t for you and your little vigilante squad, maybe that rat wouldn’t need to sell drugs. Did you ever think about that?”

Dale started yelling back, “That’s not true! Rat Capone’s the crook here, not us!” Monty put his paws on the chipmunks’ shoulders, saying in a low, but clear, voice, “Mates, I seen angry mobs form in my time, an’ this is one. Let’s jus’ get back ‘ome quick before it gets ugly.”

Zipper, taking the hint, flew in quick, tight circles above the assembled animals. They started yelling at him and grabbing in the air. The Rangers quickly and quietly filed out of the Emergency Room and into the vehicles. After quickly starting up the motors, Zipper flew out to enter the RangerCopter.

The angry mob of enraged animals swarmed out of the Emergency Room, trying to get at the Rescue Rangers. Too late, the Rangers retreated to the park, hearing the taunts and threats of the citizens in their ears.

Chip and Dale landed their aircraft on the landing strip outside Ranger Headquarters and parked them in the hanger. Gadget brought the RangerCopter to land in the new underground hanger beneath the shrubs. Just as the RangerCopter was about to clear the ground level, a whining and creaking sound emanated from the roof of the cabin around the top rotor.

Gadget looked back in fear as she guessed what the sound heralded. Sure enough, she heard a horrible twisting of metal, than a loud popping sound. The RangerCopter started descending too fast. She called out, “The main rotor’s disengaged! Brace for impact!”

BANG! The RangerCopter landed roughly on the landing pad. The section of roofing around the top rotor gave way, and the assembly shoved its way down into the cabin, revealing a completely wrecked mechanism. Zipper dodged out of the way just in time to avoid getting crushed by the jagged metal fragments.

The Rangers left the cabin and inspected the damage. The top rotor housing had completely given way under the strain of the earlier payload. The struts had twisted to the breaking point and the strain of the takeoff and landing at the hospital had pushed it further. It was a miracle they survived the landing, much less made it all the way to headquarters.

Gadget took off her tennis ball helmet and slammed it on the ground as hard as she could. “DARN IT!”

Monty and Zipper moved to calm her, “Easy now, Gadget-luv. You did yer best, an’ you saved those animals’ lives. Isn’t that worth rememberin’?” Zipper tried to hug her cheek, but her facial muscles would not relent. She yelled, throwing Zipper through the air, “What about next time? The RangerCopter is dead, Monty! Look at that damage! It would be easier just to build a new one from scratch than replace that rotor and housing! What happens if Capone sets another fire?”

The rugged Aussie decided that this was to the time to not leave her alone to sort things out. He put his arm around Gadget’s shoulders and hugged her in a fatherly way. He said, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll do what ol’ Geegaw Hackwrench told me to do back in the Great War. He said, ‘Monty, quit yer blubberin. Yes, we’re down now, but the battle’s not over. We gotta get back up, dust ourselves off, an’ try again. If we don’t, the Bad Guys win. An’ we NEVER let the Bad Guys win.’ I think those are some great words. What do you think, luv?”

Gadget, wiped her tears away with her sleeve. She didn’t say anything, but she let Monty and Zipper bring her back to headquarters. Monty steered her into the kitchen, so she could help cook a meal. A little simple work will do that girl good. Now, to get tha boys roight as rain. We can’t all fall apart. What do we do next? We’re down one vehicle, tired, an’ the citizens are starting ta turn against us. We gotta get back in tha game and score some points, but how?

As Monty led Gadget into the kitchen, he noticed Dale sulking on the couch. He frowned, constantly thinking about what the animals in the Emergency Room said. Foxglove wrapped her wings around her chipmunk, offering support to him, but with a few tears in her own eyes as well. Quietly, he asked, “Where’s Chip?”

Dale snorted, “He’s gone to see McDugell. I hope he brings back somethin’ good, ‘cause I’ve had it with bad news today.”

Chip leaned forward, slouching on McDugell’s desk while the gray squirrel read of reports of movements and arrests while the Rangers were working their side of the case. McDugell asked, “And that’s where we are now. Did you get all that, Chip?” He looked over to Chip, only to be unable to see the chipmunk’s face. All he saw was the leather jacket and fedora slanted forward. He walked around his desk and tapped Chip on the shoulder.

Half asleep, half depressed, Chip jerked his head up sluggishly. He mumbled, “Huh? Uh, what?” McDugell recognized the signs of fatigue and heaviness of the spirit. He commented, “If you’re drooling on my desk, stop it.”

Chip, now fully aware of his position, sat up. He stretched his muscles and groaned, “Sorry, McDugell. This case has us beat, literally.”

The gray squirrel grunted in sympathy. “I told you this case would test your limits, Chip, and not just the physical ones. Are you still worried over what those fools in the Emergency Room said?” Upon seeing the detective’s nod, he stated, “Don’t listen to them. They’re blinded with grief. They’ll recover and be back on our side, just not today. You’ve done good work. Don’t give up the fight.”

Chip slapped his hat on the desk, retorting, “I know we’ve done good work, but it’s not enough, is it? We know about the oil production, but that only slows them down. We need to figure out exactly how they get it into the harbor. That’s the only way to shut them down.”

McDugell mentioned, “We’ve got a warrant out for that Harbormaster, but he’s started to run. Once we get him, we’ll get the rest of our facts. In the meantime, I’ve got assigned a squad to find his family and put them into protective custody. What we need now is a plan to take down the dockside operation. We’ll raid the flower oil factory and the docks at the same time. They’ll never know what hit them.”

Chip snorted again, clearly still disillusioned. McDugell frowned deeply. This one’s taking too much on his own shoulders. I can only imagine what the other Rangers are feeling right now. Well, it doesn’t matter. Feelings won’t win this battle against Capone. I need him to fix the others.

The A.P.F. officer straightened up and spoke sharply, but not unkindly, “Chip, stop acting like a child! You knew something like this might happen. Well, it’s happened, and we can’t take it back. Now start coming up with a plan for both of us to punch Capone right in his nose. I want the satisfaction of feeling his nose breaking against my fist personally. Now get back home and get some sleep. I want to see you here tomorrow to help interrogate Joey, got it?”

Late the next morning, the Rescue Rangers were awake at headquarters, but they weren’t happy. Dale was on the couch, watching old re-runs of cancelled T.V. shows. Gadget, too depressed to invent, sat on the couch with him. Foxglove decided to be by herself, so she hung from the roof of the exercise room and groomed herself. Monty had decided to stay in his room and ‘organize’ things. The others knew that when Monty wanted to ‘organize’, he really wanted to go over old memories to find his purpose again. Zipper just stayed with Monty, reminiscing. Chip sat at the living room table, writing on pieces of paper. Every once in a while, he would crush a paper in his paws and throw it away.

“Darn it! Why can’t I come up with anything?”, Chip cried in frustration. Nobody answered him. He continued, “None of these plans will work. Everything hinges around which ships bring the drug into the docks. Which one?!”

The T.V. show ended. A news update came on the screen. “This is Stan Blather with a late-breaking story. The Harbormaster at the city docks has been arrested on charges of being an accomplice to smuggling stolen museum artifacts into other countries.” Chip snorted, Well, there’s good news. It seems that the docks are going to mock me through human channels.

The news anchor continued, “The suspect was caught when a surprise audit turned up mismatched entries in his paperwork. Harbormasters are required to keep accurate records of ship traffic to make sure all registered cargo is accounted for. If a ship’s name is entered incorrectly, it could allow the ship to appear to not to have entered port at all. This is Stan Blather reminding everyone that ‘crime does not pay’. Tune in at 11 o’clock tonight for the full story.”

The following commercial for laundry soap did not register on Chip’s brain as the detective experienced an epiphany. He gave a sudden whoop of excitement, then dashed out of headquarters. Gadget, startled by the sudden excitement, turned to see Chip speed out of the front door. She asked, “What’s with him?” Dale responded lethargically, “Sounds like Chip’s got an idea. Just sit tight, he’ll tell us eventually.” The inventor went back to watching the T.V., still bummed over the RangerCopter’s failure.

McDugell escorted Chip down the hallway of the A.P.F. building’s detention cells. The pair walked in silence, each with a grim expression on their faces. McDugell carries a thick manila folder under his arm. A single officer stood guard outside a room with ‘Interrogation #1’ stenciled on the outside.

McDugell asked, “Any trouble?” The officer saluted smartly and replied, “Not a peep, Sarge.” The gray squirrel grunted in acknowledgment. He let Chip and himself into the room. Inside, Joey sat in an uncomfortable chair. He was caught drumming his fingers on the table before him. Another pair of chairs were waiting occupants near the door. A microphone was seated in the middle of the wall, recording every word said in the room.

Joey looked up at the faces of Chip and McDugell and tried to show some bravado. “Hey, you guys got a lot of guts arresting me like this! My bosses will have your badges for breakfast tomorrow morning! You got any evidence, show me now or let me go.”

Chip remained standing while McDugell sat down and opened the folder. The A.P.F. officer started talking smoothly, “Gladly. Mr. Grizzlespike, you are accused of fraud and knowingly aiding drug traffickers. The sentence for such offenses will put you away for life. We’ve read your logbooks very carefully. That wasn’t very nice to fool the Rescue Rangers like that. Not only did you lie to them in the course of an A.P.F. investigation, but you deliberately lead them into a deathtrap. We’ll add a few counts of accessory to murder to your list. That will take care of any possible parole you might be thinking of. Can you think of a single reason that we should be nice to you in return?”

Joey’s mouth dropped so low it nearly struck the table. “No! I mean…I can’t! What about my family! If I talk…they’ll…” Joey shed a tear, then stated in a flat voice, “Go ahead. Lock me up. At least my family will be safe.”

Chip spoke up, his crisp tone setting Joey’s nerves on edge, “About that… They’re safe. The A.P.F. found them and freed them. By now, they’ll be in a safehouse just outside the city. Will you testify now?”

The hedgehog smiled brightly, exhaling in relief. He mentioned, “Thank goodness. I don’t mean to be such an obstacle, guys, but the answer’s still ‘no’. If I testify, Capone will still send people after them. They’ll never be safe.”

The leather-clad Ranger expected as much. He said coldly, “I’m sure you’ll want to call them and make sure they’re safe later today.” When he saw Joey nod enthusiastically, he said, “You won’t be able to talk to your daughter.”

Seeing the hedgehog’s face drop so completely and so suddenly, Chip felt his stomach turn. Joey blurted, “Why not? Where is she?” He clearly feared the worst.

Chip bolted at top speed right at Joey, grabbing his collar. He lifted the surprised hedgehog off his feet and drove him back into the wall. Joey’s head bounced off the wall, and McDugell jumped to his feet. He cautioned, “Chip! Don’t hurt him!”

The Ranger put his face right up close to Joey’s and he screamed, “She’s in rehab! Capone’s thugs thought you needed more ‘incentive’ and gave her an adult-sized dose!” Chip paused to let this sink in. Deep in the corner of his mind, he was gratified to see Joey’s face blanch in horror. He continued, lowering his voice a full octave, “You should have seen her the last time I did. She was asking where you were and why you didn’t come visit her. Then she threw up all over herself.”

Joey’s pupils shrunk to tiny dots. Chip could only imagine in his worst nightmares what this hedgehog was being forced to see in his mind’s eye. Suddenly, his pupils expanded wide, and his face flushed from white to deep red. Rage had taken over the Harbormaster.

“Those filthy scum! Those trash! Those…those…They promised! They promised! You want me to testify?!?! Do you?! Well, I’ll testify! I’ll tell you everything! I’ll tell you names, businesses, ships, contacts…heck, I’ll tell you their private phone numbers! Nobody touches my daughter with that filth and walks free! The Twins run the Crossed Cardinals! Capone buys their cooperation with a percentage of the drug! The Silver Minnow cargo fleet carries the drug. They get it from out in the harbor, near the human ships, then bring it right back after changing their painted ship’s registries. I don’t know how they do it, but they can do it quickly. Their alternate registries are the Whispering Waves. They keep shifting names for each run so it looks like they went on a legit haul. They just haul the same boxes back and forth and use the Crossed Cardinals for storage in between shipments.”

After that, Joey just broke down crying, sobbing his heart out. Chip gently let him down, then walked out of the room. McDugell packed up his folder and followed. The officer on duty shut the door behind them, clearly unnerved by the shouting.

McDugell mentioned off-handedly, “Was that really necessary, Chip? I mean mentioning his daughter like that.”

Chip felt horrible. His sickly stomach had frozen over, and felt very heavy. He mumbled, “It was the only way to get him to testify. Without him, we have no case against Capone except possession and sale. Any slimeball lawyer could get him out of prison overnight.”

McDugell sighed, seeing the hard glare in the chipmunk’s eyes. “I told you that you would be risking your very soul over this case. We just bent the rules for the greater good, Chip. Don’t take that last step and break them. Remember, we’re not them.”

Chip just nodded his head in response. McDugell added, “Still, I’m grateful for the confession. That one outburst will seal the case. I got all the evidence, and I’ll get more details later. I’ll order simultaneous raids on the flower oil refinery and the Crossed Cardinals warehouse tonight. What about that ‘last shipment’ you said Capone needed?”

The chipmunk tilted his fedora severely, and planned, “I’ve got that covered. If you can get the warrants, then we’ll stop the fleet. I’ll have Gadget whip up some tech to stop the ships cold. Capone needs to deliver his payment tomorrow night. If he doesn’t, he’s finished for good. No one will do business with him after that. Let’s go over those shipping records again. I think I’ve got an angle on which human ships are the ‘mules’, and from there plan our own raid. Capone’s fortune will sink to the bottom of the harbor.”

The gray squirrel nodded, admiring the way the chipmunk thought up plans. If Capone’s fleet sunk out in water, away from the docks, then there’s little recourse he could have. Especially if he was fleeing several warrants demanding him to stop.

He broached the subject carefully, not wanting to tick off Chip any more than he was now, “You know that Joey’s not going to be happy when he learns that his daughter was never attacked, that you lied to him to get him to testify.”

Chip’s venom returned, even stronger, “He’ll be even less happy if his family learns how he was still willing to help a group of dirty drug dealers even after he knew his family was safe. They might get the wrong impression over who he was really working for.” McDugell’s spine shivered at the hard tactics the chipmunk had learned over the years from dealing the likes of Fat Cat, Rat Capone, and the Siamese Twins.

Back at headquarters, Gadget was getting sick of watching old television shows from the ‘80’s. They were nice in the 80’s, but the tech is so outdated now. An hour of the Z-Team had her interested for a few minutes while they modified yet another van into a pseudo-tank. They finished a double-episode of Knight Runner, with the mystery yet again being solved by driving an intelligent car around a deserted factory and driving off ramps. The closing credits started to roll when Chip burst into the living room.

“Gadget! I need you!” This got the attention of everyone in headquarters. Foxglove swooped down from her perch and glided into the living room. Monty and Zipper came running from down the hall to peek through the doorway. Dale and Gadget turned their heads around sharply to watch Chip.

Gadget stood up, fearing what Chip might mean by this outburst. She asked timidly, “Wh-what do you mean, Chip?” Chip ran over, grabbed Gadget’s paws in his own, and intoned, “This is something that only you can do, Gadget, and we don’t have much time!”

The others came up with a myriad of theories about what he was going to say next. Monterey censored his own imagination in case someone in the room was a mind-reader.

Chip exclaimed for everyone, “We got Joey to testify! We know which ships carry the drug! McDugell’s going to have warrants for arrest, capture, and sink, if necessary, just to make sure Capone doesn’t make his payments to his partners. If we only stop the ships, they could still be picked up by the bad guys before the A.P.F. gets there. So, we’re going to sink the ships with Capone’s loot aboard. That way nobody will even want to salvage it in our harbor. Capone will be finished!”

Confused, the blonde inventor asked, “So, what do I have to do with this?” Chip proudly beheld Gadget and said, “I need you to modify the RangerPlane and RangerWing to carry weapons that will sink Capone’s cargo fleet, but slowly so all paws can abandon ship. They’ll swim towards the docks, where the A.P.F. will arrest them.”

A seething fire ignited in Gadget’s soul. The memories of the precious RangerCopter coming apart and falling to its death played over and over in her mind’s theater. The sight of the rotor ripping free of it’s mounting and slamming down into the cabin plagued her thoughts.

She pulled her paws out of Chip’s forcefully, then turned her back to him. Surprised, chip asked, “Gadget? What’s wrong?” The mouse in lavender stifled her oncoming hiccups and asked, “Chip, were you there when I crashed the RangerCopter for the last time?” Chip shook his head, hoping it was a rhetorical question.

Gadget spun on Chip, fury in her eyes, “Of course not! You weren’t there! You didn’t see how Zipper was almost killed because ‘my’ invention nearly pulverized his body! You didn’t see the top rotor descend like an elevator right through the cabin! No, Chip. I won’t make anything else that might harm my teammates.”

Shocked, Chip begged her, “Gadget, you have to! If you let that loot reach those drug smugglers, they’ll set up permanent camp right in our backyard! Are you going to let all those kids get horribly hooked on some drug because you made a mistake?!”

Monty felt it necessary to say something. After all, his best friend’s daughter was blaming herself for nothing. “Blimey, luv. You can’t ‘old yerself responsible fer that! Ye did tha best you could and…”

She faced Monty and pointed her finger at him, yelling, “That’s right! I did do my best, my very best! Do you know why it wasn’t good enough? Do you? Do any of you?” When no one answered her, she threw up her paws and said it for them. “Junk! It’s all junk! All I have to work with is junk!”

Gadget started pacing like mad, her voice bordering on hysterical. “You can’t build any kind of helicopter that’s expected to carry over a dozen times its own weight using junk! You can’t build a gyroscopic sphere to carry passengers over any angle of surface with junk! You can’t build a reliable radio transceiver with junk! You need real parts! You need real machines, not cobbled-together spares! Parts that fit together like they were designed, machined, and meant to be fitted together!”

Dale, worried for Gadget’s sanity, decided to do something to help. He offered, “Uh, why don’t ya? You can use the die-cast models they sell at hobby stores, right?” Gadget looked right at Dale, as if his face held the answer written all over his face in Latin.

The sound of a helicopter propeller emanated from the T.V. screen. The scene was a view of the top of a sand dune, with a far canyon wall in the distant background. A high-pitched whining sound, resembling a lone wolf’s howl, added to the soundtrack. Suddenly, right up close and personal, an attack helicopter hovered right into view, facing the audience. It had a sleek body painted such a dim shade of gray, it resembled black. The belly was painted white. The overall body style was sleek, to better cut down wind resistance for flying at high speeds.

The introduction to the show continued with various scenes from the season. A driving synthesizer beat gave the subconscious image of a large wolf running in time with the rotor blades of the helicopter. Scenes of the helicopter flying impossibly fast, shooting chainguns from its side pods, firing missiles from a missile pod in its belly, using jet turbines to push the helicopter faster than Mach 1, and various portraits of the human actors caused Gadget’s brain to shift into neutral, then into overdrive. A scene of a missile launched from the helicopter showed the projectile slamming into a military-class destroyer, blowing the whole thing up into spare parts.

Finally, the name of the show appeared amongst some primitive computer graphics and schematics, “Skywolf”. A smile appeared on Gadget’s face. Dale waved his paw in front of her face. He asked carefully, “I didn’t make you mad, did I?”

Gadget’s smile blossomed into a near head-splitting gap. She asked, her voice squeaking with excitement, “Chip, when does the enemy fleet sail?”

Chip momentarily lost his train of thought, but then picked it up again, “Um…Tomorrow night. A human ship, the Jungle Star, will arrive in our harbor after sunset. That entire line of cruise ships from South America have been either detoured into our water or mysteriously broken down here. Capone’s partners stow away in the cargo hold and arrange for the ship to stop, then they drop the drugs overboard in sealed plastic containers. The Twins’ ships sail around to the other side of the human ship, out of sight, pick up the packages, change registries by swapping out cleverly hidden panels and switching radio transponders, then just wait a while before heading right back. Clever, but not clever enough. Their sudden lack of buying any type of fuel and the exact schedule connections tipped us off.”

The mechanical genius started laughing. Everyone started to exchange glances, now Officially Worried about her state of mental health. She raced towards her workshop, yelling back over her shoulder, “I’ll make a list for everyone. Wait there!”

Confused silence reigned in the living room, except for the T.V. which had two humans talking about how some North African military régime was attacking a Central African country friendly to the U.S. They were going to sneak in and steal the attack helicopter, then use it to stop the military régime.

Monty broke the silence, bemoaning, “It’s finally ‘appened! Me best mate’s little girl has gone bonzah loco! It’s all me fault. I shouldn’ta pushed ‘er so ‘ard!” Zipper squeaked his sympathy and patted Monty’s shoulder. Chip tried to calm Monty, “Now take it easy. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for this.”

Foxglove suggested, “Yeah, Monty. Just because one of her favorite inventions broke at the worst possible time, threatening to plunge half the team and two parents to their deaths into a hopeless fire, then breaking beyond repair just before she landed under her own power, is no reason to think that Gadget’s mind might snap. Right, Dale?” The red-nosed chipmunk decided not to answer a loaded question. It might hurt Foxy’s feelings.

Gadget hurtled back into the living room, bearing several lists. She gave one to each Ranger, keeping one for herself. “Everybody get everything on your lists, all of them! Dale and Monty, you two go together. Remember, get the biggest scale of models you can find. If you can’t get an official ‘Skywolf’ model, then a Bell 222 will also work. Remember, die-cast construction and I don’t mind ‘some assembly required’ on the box. We’ll find some way to pay the human back after the case is over. Any questions?”

Zipper buzzed for attention, then squeaked and mimed. Chip added his interest, “Yeah, Gadget, with the firepower on these lists, you could go to war with a small country. What are you planning?”

Gadget addressed the group in responding, “A ship, a fleet, a small country, even several large ones if need be. I’m going to invent something so versatile that it can wipe drugs off the minds of every criminal who sees her coming. If there is something that exists that can be described as a supernatural entity that predates the formation of this planet who is responsible for the creation and evolution of life as we know it, then that being will be my witness as I say this. That fleet is toast!”

The next several hours went by fast as the Rangers hurried back and forth between various places and headquarters. Hobby shops, comic book stores, art supply stores, automotive supply, and even the nearby Transistor Shack were raided. Store managers all across the city would take inventory that upcoming weekend and unanimously declare a crime wave. Local police would laugh, then take statements. Ma’s Diner would do good business feeding cops on late shifts trying to solve this baffling rash of petty thefts. In the future, generations of police academy trainees would reference this incident in the city’s criminal history as “The Night the Toys Ran Away”.

Monty and Dale drove the RangerSkate back and forth from the hobby stores, hauling a wide skateboard on eight wheels, which carried many boxes of die-cast models of helicopters. They passed the time exchanging bawdy jokes and voice-mimicking a blow horn every time a human car would cut them off. They were in high spirits all day.

Foxglove went with Chip and they raided electronics stores. Chip anticipated a slow event collecting the high-tech parts recognizable only by their serial numbers. However, Foxglove proved to have an excellent memory and a knack for memorizing and searching for alpha-numeric labels. Of course, she had the annoying habit of randomly saying things that didn’t fit with the mission. “Roger, Commander Chip.” “Bombs away!” “Save the rabbits!” “Commit pitch attitudes A- and B-Ring. The black hole is pulling us in!” “Stay on target!” More than once, he wished he had swapped with Dale.

Gadget led Zipper into the computer store. She had him locate sets of miniature tools, then distract the humans away from the counters as she ‘borrowed’ the sets for a good cause. On the way back, she stopped at several rodent-sized parts stores. She left with specialized tools and tubes of superglue. She planned ahead as she already put together a basic 3-D diagram of the RangerCopter 2 in her head. She allowed for statistically normal variances in the number of appropriately-sized fasteners the others would bring back, heat and humidity effects on commercial superglue when left to dry underground, the need to tunnel from the hanger to underneath the tree, and the special way Chip’s dark eyes sparkled when he finally found the one clue that solved the mystery. Wait, where did that last one come in? She filed that one away under ‘Later’ in her subconscious.

Once all the assembled components were placed into the hanger, the Randers assembled for a quick ceremony. Gadget officially pronounced the RangerCopter dead. She grabbed her wrench and disconnected the top rotor from its housing herself. Then the rest of the Rangers disconnected the remainder of the helicopter. She then cleared a space and started drawing blueprints for the RangerCopter 2.

Not to be thought of as slackers, the others asked for a job. Gadget couldn’t hurt their feelings by telling them that they would be useless during the planning phase. So, she told them about her desire to have a tunnel from the garage to the underground hanger. The other Rangers conferred among themselves. They reached a consensus, then gave Gadget a collective set of smarmy grins. They ran off, not to be seen for hours.

Gadget had catalogued and sorted parts, then arranged the disassembled shells of 1:16 scale Skywolf and Bell 222 helicopters. The boys even came through with their deliveries of parts for the rapid distribution of ordinance. The thought of weapons made her shudder. She felt some dark corner of her mind revel in the thought of dealing damage for once, instead of constantly taking it. She tried to beat it back, only to have it resurge even stronger. Her fists curled and her adrenaline flowed. Her heart beat and her muscles stretched. It felt wonderful! NO! She stopped fighting, and just accepted her desire for vengeance. She channeled it, gave it a task. Help me make this the way I want it! The rage subsided, but did not disappear. Instead, it granted her a steady stream of energy, pepping her up. She dove into her work headlong.

After arranging the power supply, clutch, emergency battery, cranks, landing gear, pilot’s seat, co-pilot’s seat, and weapon pods, she looked back and checked her weight-and-balance equations. Yep, looks good. Now to start running cables through the hull to connect the controls.

Suddenly, the nearby wall collapsed. Earthquake? No!!! Not when I’m so close! A mole’s friendly face poked through and said, “Land shark.” Confused, Gadget queried, “Uh, what?” The mole did an exaggerated recovery, then said, “Candy-gram.” Still confused, she asked, “I don’t get it.”

The mole turned his head to look back underneath him, “She doesn’t get it.” Dale crawled under the mole and stood up in the hanger, “Aw, Gadget! You ruined a classic joke. You’re supposed to invite him in so he can gobble you up!”

Gadget’s face had a priceless look on it as she asked, “Why on Earth would I want that, Dale?” Chip crawled rapidly into the hanger, then stood next to Dale. His paw formed a tight fist and he acted swiftly. BONK! Dale hit the ground roughly, rubbing his head. He grumbled, “You’re just jealous ‘cause you don’t have a sense of humor.”

The Mole climbed back into the hole, saying, “Okay, guys, tunnel complete. I’ll fill in behind myself. You nail those guys, you hear me?” Monty’s voice sounded through the tunnel, “Roight you are, mate, an’ thanks again. This’ll be a big help!”

Chip told Gadget, “This tunnel goes straight under the ground to the base of the tree. There, it slopes up and connects to the garage through a hole that a colony of termites graciously agreed to do. They didn’t touch anything else. Nothing at all. They said it was a pleasure to help put a stop to the cause of the toxic runoff from the refining of the drugs.”

Gadget’s heart felt lighter, and the dark corner retreated for the time being. He hugged both the chipmunks, and instructed, “Wonderful! Now, I need to work through most of the night. So, bring me coffee and sandwiches. I’ll fix up the tunnel later so make it waterproof. That reminds me, get some kind of tarp to cover the hanger from the outside. I’ll rig up some kind of cover another time.”

The next morning, a frantic knocking echoed through Ranger Headquarters. Chip raced from the kitchen and opened the door. He saw a female flying squirrel, a wife of one of the A.P.F. officers. He hissed at the flying squirrel, “Quiet! Gadget’s been up all night and she’s sleeping for now.”

Sally, the flying squirrel in question, promptly shut up. She shook in her place, her membrane quivering visibly. Chip finally noticed her agitated state and asked, “Sally, what’s wrong? Is this about the raid last night?”

The flying squirrel wrung her paws over and over, saying, “McDugell sent me. He wanted you to know that the raids went bad last night, both of them.” Chip ushered Sally into the living room, sitting her on the couch.

He walked around to each of the Ranger’s rooms, asking them to assemble in the living room. Once all of the Rangers were present, except Gadget, Sally started again. “This morning, I went to the station to check on my husband. He didn’t come back last night.”

Sally, sobbed a bit, prompting Zipper to fly into the kitchen. He returned with a thimble, half-full of water. She gratefully accepted the thimble and drained it in one gulp. Continuing, her nerves were calmer. “The desk sergeant told me that the raids went down badly, both of them. Capone was ready for a raid. He rigged both places with several deadly traps. Many of the A.P.F. were badly injured, including my husband.”

The Rangers felt badly for the A.P.F. They had gone through their own fair share of traps. Whether they were made by Fat Cat, Professor Nimnul, or even the standard rodent traps the humans set, any trap seemed to just radiate death. Sally said, “Many others won’t be coming home anymore.”

If the Rangers felt sympathetic before, they were downright humbled now. Dale asked, “Y-y-you m-mean that th-they…?” At Sally’s nod of confirmation, Dale began to cry. Foxglove joined soon after, and the couple held each other in comfort.

“What was that?”, called a soft, feminine voice from the hallway. Everyone turned to see Gadget, dressed in her nightgown and clutching her blanket tightly. Monty moved to comfort her, but she interrupted with a flinty voice, “Is there anymore to the message?”

Sally, unnerved by the conflict in Gadget’s appearance and voice, finished her message. “Um, all that left is the numbers. McDugell says that they captured most of the key players, including the botanists who invented the oil. They’ve got more than enough of the dockworkers and sellers to cripple the drug operation in the city. By itself, it will die once the supply run out. The bad news is…Rat Capone escaped.”

Disbelief and shock rippled through Ranger Headquarters. A moment of silence was observed for the fallen. Dale broke the silence gently by asking, “Now what? Are we done?”

Chip declared firmly, “Not by a long shot.”

Foxglove queried, “But Capone’s operation is done for. He doesn’t have anything to start over with. What else could he do?”

The chipmunk tilted his fedora slightly, making his visage more stern. “He still has his payment. If he delivers it, he’s in good with his partners. If he floated a loan before, he can do it again. I’ll bet you any odds that he’s hiding out in the docks, waiting for tonight to sail with the fleet. He’ll take whatever profits he can carry and go to a different city, one with a lesser chance of trouble with the A.P.F.”

The possibility of this whole rotten business starting over again made all of the Rangers’ stomachs turn. Gadget asked, “How are you sure that he won’t sail earlier? Like right now?”

Chip shook his head. He explained, “His number one priority is to pay off his partners. Nothing else matters. That means he sails with the fleet, not alone. Since the fleet has to rendezvous with a human ship, he would be seen by the humans in daylight. No, he’ll wait for nightfall, then strain the engines on one last trip. He won’t need the fleet after that. He’ll leave the Twins to absorb the business at the docks and all the trouble from the A.P.F. that goes with it. He’ll start over, mark my words. Only he’ll be smarter next time.”

Gadget absorbed this information, her brain rapidly calculating distances, fuel burn rates, prevailing wind in knots, and hours left in the day before astronomically predicted sunset. She subtracted time for another nap, pre-flight check, and calibration of ordinance.

She came to a decision. “Monty, brew up some of your Ma’s Special Coffee, two pots, then help me with construction. Did you tell the truth about your helicopter repair during the war?”

The rugged Aussie puffed up chest and claimed, “Yes, I did. How could you doubt yer ol’ uncle Monty, luv? When I said me an’ Geegaw fixed a jammed engine in total darkness using only our fingers, tools, and tasting grades of oil, I meant it! Let’s get crackin’!”

The inventor assigned, “Chip. Dale. You two make some ‘pick-me-up’ finger foods to snack on all day. Also, lend a paw fetching tools and parts. That will cut down on our time walking around trying to find something.”

Dale drove his fist into his palm, “Right, Gadget! We’ll fix that Capone for good! We’ll show him what the Rescue Rangers can do in a bind!”

Chip agreed, “Good idea. Also, I want Foxglove and Zipper to head over to A.P.F. headquarters. Find McDugell or anyone else who knows the numerical reports for the raids. I’m interested in how many got away as well as how many captured. Also, discreetly ask how many officers they can spare tonight if we delivered the rest of Capone’s thugs to the docks where the cargo fleet will be launching from.”

Zipper gave a trumpeting call, and everyone cheered, “Rescue Rangers, Away!” Sally giggled, then said, “Wow, that’s fun! I always wanted to say that.”

The sun began to merge with the horizon, the sky ablaze with orange fire. Most honest animals were either already at home or on their way. A certain group of dishonest animals were starting up their massive engines. Clouds of smoke billowed from the smokestacks of the cargo fleet. The Silver Minnows left the docks, pulling out into harbor. They grouped together in formation, then turned towards the bow of the human passenger ship, the Jungle Star. Once they had their bearing, they pushed their engines to maximum throttle. The engines groaned with complaint, but obeyed. The ships leapt away from the docks and headed forward. It would take some time to cross the distance from the dock to the human ship sitting in the open water, even with engines at full throttle.

Once at the bow of the human ship, they would swing around to meet the rafts of the South American rats aboard the Jungle Star. Normally, the fleet would use fishing nets to scoop bundles out of the water. This time, they would carefully lower trunks of gold and jewels to the rats. Anther thing that was different. The Boss was on board the flagship, and he was the ‘take charge’ kind. It was best in the long run to just do what he said and not reply to his threats.

Far off, in the middle of the city, stood the park. Bathed in the orange rays of the setting sun, it was a romantic’s dream. A dove couple stood on the branch of an elm tree and gazed at the sunset. The male sighed, thankful for the perfect atmosphere. He had a very important question to ask his girl, and he wanted everything to be perfect.

The female suspected that something important might happen, so she tried not to appear nervous. She triple-checked that her plumage was perfect, every feather in place. She gazed into her boyfriend’s eyes and sighed. He has such dreamy eyes.

The male gulped, wondering where that hungry expression on her face came from. Well, he thought to himself, it’s now or never. He hopped a tad closer, then turned his beak to be almost touching hers.

He asked her, “Abigail, I need to ask you something.” The female almost covered up her excitement and prompted, “Yes, what is it, Herman?” The male asked, “Abigail…do you hear that sound?”

The female flapped her wings powerfully, screaming for all the world to hear, “Yes! Yes…what?” She landed on the branch, confused and angry. “What do you mean, Herman? What sound?”

He responded, “Shh…listen.” He then turned his head towards the oak tree. Upset that her perfect moment was forever ruined, she also turned to hear the sound. Her anger faded as she did indeed hear a strange sound. It was something she had never heard before.

They both heard the rising sound of a mechanical whirring. It seemed to be gaining altitude without moving forward. This was a foreign concept to a fixed-wing creature such as a bird, so they couldn’t place it.

Soon, the sound was above the treetops. Suddenly, the sound began to move forward, howling like a lone wolf. The birds panicked, scattering away from the sound. They screamed a warning to all their neighbors. “Help! Scatter! Hide your children! There’s a flying wolf in the park!”

Inside the cabin, everyone was marveling at the smooth, seamless construction of the RangerCopter 2.

Up front, Gadget flew in the pilot’s seat. Chip sat next to her at the co-pilot’s seat. Although, his lack of experience with rotor-wing aircraft meant all he did was check gauges and report things he didn’t understand, which was a lot.

In the middle of the cabin, Dale and Foxglove sat each in their own seats, admiring the view from the windows in their sliding doors.

In the back of the helicopter, Monty sat at his new and improved console. He still had to crank his two gears, but they wound more smoothly since they had their own dedicated cables and pulleys. Two discreetly placed independent oil pans gave a constant drip of synthetic lubricant to the top rotor to prevent the same catastrophic failure as the first RangerCopter. A clever siphon collected the dripped oil and used the rotor’s motion to pump it back up into the pans. He also had a switch for a battery to power the rotor for if he was needed to do something else. He had of eight full dentist mirrors to look at, all right in front of him and arranged in a semicircle. The images were projected from fiber-optic cables connected to lenses mounted in clever places around the chassis. Monty could see all 360 degrees around the helicopter, even an upper and lower view from behind.

It was the weaponry that Gadget was most proud of. Like its inspiration, the RangerCopter 2 also had a pair of chainguns that shot out BB pellets at a phenomenal muzzle velocity, at least for an object its size. The BB’s were fed into the modified BB launchers by a long belt that wrapped expertly into cylindrical drums that stored in the side pods. The extra power was generated by a pair of CO2 cartridges that forced the BB’s out at huge pressures.

The missile pod turned out to be the biggest accomplishment of all. First being described by Monty as ‘impossible’, Gadget took that offensive word as a challenge. She took several of the high-yield ‘bottle rockets’ that Chip liberated from the fireworks store, and used their measurements to construct three parallel launch tubes. She salvaged the mechanisms from several RC cars to create jury-rigged triggers and low-intensity flame jets for lighting fuses. She also removed all the commercial gunpowder and detonation pack from the rocket. She filled it with her own special brand of high-yield smokeless powder. She also put a time-delayed impact sensor in the nose. Finally, she replaced the fuse and glued a thin steel cone to the nose. Since one of the models of ‘Skywolf’ came with movable weapon emplacement replicas, she fitted the missile pod into that cavity. It was near enough to Monty that he can switch on the battery, then leave his chair to reload the next three missiles if she asked for them.

Finally, the last things to mention were actually once of the first installed. There were tiny switches, lights, and knobs all over the cockpit. There were switches to convert the RangerCopter 2 into Battle Mode, switches to automatically open the side doors, switches to automatically close the side doors, switches to lower and arm the missile pod, switches to raise and deactivate the missile pod, and even a switch like the one she was just about to press.

“RangerCopter 2 is free and clear. Heading is zero-three-five at fifty feet. Hang on everybody!” The Rangers reflexively grabbed the nearest ‘solid’ object and expected the worst. When you fly with Gadget, you learn the language of Gadget. Kinda like ‘oops’ means ‘you have ten seconds to pray’, and if she says ‘never mind’ or ‘strike that’ it means ‘you will die later, but let’s finish the case first’.

Gadget pressed the switch, which was on the side of the control stick, while leaning back in her seat. A pair of mechanisms were added to the base of the tail, shielded by extra coverings. Each mechanism was a pair of human revolver-pistol bullet chambers, welded end-to-end so that their holes matched up. Each hole held another model of modified ‘bottle-rocket’. This was packed to the brim with her special gunpowder, but no detonation pack. Once lit, it would simply burn until it was exhausted.

The switch activated the mechanism. The one on the left spun clockwise by one position, putting the rocket right in the place to push its exhaust outward, opposite to the direction of travel. The one on the right spun counter-clockwise. Discreet flame jets, tweaked to function like a mini-blowtorch, jetted right at the back surface of the rocket instead of the usual ‘end of the fuse’. The result was a near-instantaneous dual-firing of super-concentrated gunpowder that was not designed to explode.

The RangerCopter 2 jerked forward, just like a wolf that sights its prey. Views of trees streamed past the windows of the helicopter. Gadget pulled the RangerCopter 2 into a wide right turn, aligning herself with the street. She was too high to accidentally snag a traffic light, but too low to fly above most buildings. So, she navigated the streets like a newlywed trying to make it to her reservation at the honeymoon cruise. When the first rockets ran out of speed, she hit the switch again. The cylinders cycled perfectly, and the rockets burned.

The humans all stopped their walking and slowed their driving when they heard the ‘howl’ of the RangerCopter 2’s spinning rotor fly past almost faster than they could see.

Some of the humans, more observant than most, immediately went home to connect to the internet. They logged onto their chatrooms to share their experiences and conjectured as to the construction of a miniature, working ‘Skywolf’. Once they had argued, insulted each other, wrote nasty e-mails to everyone, ignored the nasty e-mails of everyone else, scarfed a whole pizza, and then started to guzzle their sports drinks, they published their results in respectable journals of meta-science. They wrote up the rules for building such a device, assigned statistics and dice levels, then printed the pages for use at their Saturday night role-playing game at the comic book store.

Most of the other humans had more logical and predictable reactions. They called their therapists and scheduled appointments to discuss ‘hearing things’ which must have stemmed from unresolved childhood trauma that they can’t remember. Then they asked their therapists who they could sue for such a forgotten trauma.

A human boy, playing in his backyard, looked up to his father for guidance. He asked, “Dad, what does that sound mean?”

His father considered the question, then answered, “It means pro wrestling is on the T.V. Let’s go watch it and practice our moves!”

Both males ran inside their house and caused all females much distress.

After yet another two applications of the booster rockets, the RangerCopter 2 came within sight of the cargo fleet. Gadget called back, “Visual targets confirmed! It’s the Silver Minnow fleet, all right. They’re actually modified to resemble human warships, complete with deck guns! One battleship and five destroyers. Chip, orders?”

The others strained against their harnesses to see the fleet in question. Chip considered the options and weighed the risks. He counted the guns on each of the ships and pondered a direct assault. “McDugell would have a field day if he knew those ships have been outfitted with heavy weapons while the A.P.F. have been licking their wounds. They may have been built up, but they’re still made of wood. Gadget, could you sink them all without getting us blown up?”

The pilot performed a statistical analysis in her head, including the most probable targeting arcs, swivel rates, ballistic error, and the hull strength of the RangerCopter 2. She said, “Only if we had a lot of time. I’d have to perform endless circular strafes. I’d sink maybe two of them by the time the rest reached their destination.”

The others groaned, realizing what she meant. In order to stop the fleet, she’d have to risk all their lives on a direct assault. Even then, they might get shot down before finishing the mission. Things looked bleak.

Gadget finished her assessment, “It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for that battleship. The rest just have a single turret. I can maneuver into blind spots easy. That battleship has four turrets, though. They cover all the blind spots.”

Foxglove mumbled, “It’s too bad we don’t have a battleship to help.”

Zipper got an epiphany. He flew up next to Gadget, then buzzed, squeaked, and pantomimed a series of questions. Gadget considered it, then brightened. “Well, sure, Zip. I can boost right to right on top of the bridge. Why?”

Chip answered her, “Because we’re going to hijack that battleship. At the very least, we can stop it from firing. We might also be able to help the battle.”

Foxglove caught on, then turned to Dale. She said in an urgent, monotone voice, “Sir, the ship is lost.” Dale smiled, then crossed his arms over his chest. He said in a low, menacing voice, “Then it is time to get a new one.”

Gadget circled the RangerCopter 2 widely to the right, then lined up the vehicle with the flagship’s bridge. She pressed the booster switch and the helicopter charged forward. The fleet seemed to grow bigger right before the Rangers’ eyes.

The booster stopped, then the RangerCopter 2 slowed to normal speed right over the bridge. Gadget quickly matched speed with the ship and thumbed a pair of switches. The side doors slid open, releasing Foxglove, Dale, Zipper, and Chip. Once they were out, she thumbed a different pair of switches. The doors slid shut and clicked into place.

Deciding to seize the element of surprise, she pushed the rudder pedals sharply, spinning the helicopter 90 degrees to the left. She adjusted the aim of the craft, then pushed a black-and-yellow striped switch. The side pods on the helicopter’s body slid open, revealing a pair of modified BB launchers. A section of the belly slid open and the missile pod lowered into position.

On one of the smaller trumped-up cargo ships, a couple of deckhands were slacking off. They lay back against the railing, looking up at the darkening sky. One mentioned to his friend, “I love sunsets. They remind me of roasting marshmallows over an open fire. Or maybe kittens.”

The other was not really paying attention to the admission. He was looking around for the source of the strange sound. Not seeing anything unusual, he stood up and looked behind him, which was away from the ship and towards the flagship. What he saw boggled his imagination. Being a good shipmate, he raised an alarm. “Help! We’re under attack by Skywolf!” Being a panicked sea rat, he didn’t make much sense.

His friend looked over to him like he was crazy and said so. “What? You’ve been drinking grog early, haven’t you?” The relaxed sea rat went back to staring at the sky, wondering what that strange sound was.

Gadget finally found what she was looking for. Given the class of ship, size, and placement of smokestacks, her mind had deduced the location of the fuel and extra ammunition. “Bingo”, she intoned, as if passing judgment on the ship, finding it lacking. She thumbed a red switch on her control stick. A missile flew out from under the RangerCopter 2, flying right for the hull of the wooden destroyer. The steel-tipped projectile punched right through the wall and struck something inside the ship. A second later it exploded, detonating something else.

BOOM! The entire ship shook and jumped in the water. Several rats on deck fell overboard, frantically trying to tread water. The hull cracked sideways, spilling the whole ocean into the hold. The captain called out loudly for all paws to abandon ship.

The element of surprise lost, Gadget pushed forward on the stick, propelling the helicopter forward, nose down. All the other ships saw and heard the explosion. They looked up to see a fearsome attack helicopter with Rescue Ranger logos on the side doors and nose fly just above the flames and smoke of the wrecked ship.

A general klaxon sounded from all the remaining ships. Sailors rushed to battle stations and warmed up the turrets. The strike team took this opportunity to act. When the doors to the bridge opened, Chip and Dale pounced on the rat that appeared. They lifted him up and threw him overboard before anyone else could blink. Then they proceeded to fight their way into the bridge. Chip would throw several quick jabs to the face, while Dale would hurl himself into the crew’s legs, bowling them over.

On the other side, the setting sun cast long shadows over the walkways of the ship. A pair of rats emerged, only to stop and stare at the image on the floor. The exaggerated shadow seemed tall as a human, wearing a leathery cape and pointed horns on his head. The rats trembled, gripping each other in terror. One asked, “That’s not real, right? I mean, he’s just a comic book, right? Right?” The shape opened its cape to reveal wide, leathery wings. Foxglove stated in a bass voice, “He is. I’m not.” They looked up at her, only to watch her glide down towards them. She snagged one in her footpaws and flew away. She dropped him overboard into the water.

The sea rat recovered, shaking his fist. “I should’ve known. You’re not him!” Zipper took his chance now. He flew down and punched the rat in the eye, staggering him backwards. Then Zipper slammed the door into his face, dazing the rat. Finally, the brave fly pushed the rat overboard to join his friend.

The bridge was taken, and the Rangers let out a quick whoop. Chip grabbed the speaking tube that fed into all the ship’s speakers. He made his voice gravely, and shouted, “All paws to the bridge! I repeat, all paws to the bridge!” He then ordered, “Dale, take that front turret! Foxy, cover him!”

Dale saluted, then raced off down the stairway towards the bow of the ship. Foxglove called over her shoulder, “Like a blanket, Chip!” With that, she gained altitude, then dove to fly in formation behind her cutie’s ground charge.

Zipper squeaked a question. Chip shouted, “Shut your door and bar it! Then help me defend the bridge!” Zipper complied just as a group of sea rats began to swarm the bridge, trying to cram all of themselves into the stairways. He slid a chair under the latch, then turned to help Chip. Chip quickly pulled the lever that controls the engine speed to ‘stop’, then spun the steering wheel hard to turn into the group of smaller ships.

Gadget slid the RangerCopter 2 sideways, holding down the trigger on her control stick. The BB launchers angrily chattered like a rabid chipmunk, spraying the deck of a destroyer with brass spheres. Several rats were struck with the spheres, which also dented and scraped the wooden decks of the ships. The BB’s were flying at such speeds that they literally sheared all of the fur they touched. The reddened skin beneath stung painfully, but did not bleed. Still, the rats all jumped overboard to let the cold water soothe their skin, taking them out of the fight. Lining up the trajectory of the missile to the perfect spot on the ship, Gadget thumbed the red switch again. Another missile shot out, punching through the ship’s hull. BOOM! The ship began sinking.

BANG-BANG! Gadget’s brain immediately recognized the sound of incoming anti-aircraft fire and tugged the controls. The RangerCopter flew forward, sideways, and spun at the same time. The lethal projectiles missed the vehicle’s hull by about six inches.

Monty, still cranking like mad, called out, “They’ve got tha range now, luv! Get wide!” He glanced at all the mirrors, thankful that they were labels with their directions of view. He shrieked out, “Evasive! 8 o’clock!”

Gadget pushed the RangerCopter 2 into a wide arc, circling outside the tight group of ships. She heard the sounds of turret fire, trying to track her movements. BANG-BANG! BANG-BANG! She complained, “They’re so bunched up, I can’t get a good target lock unless I’m in the line of fire!”

Monty heard his gear click, then he made ready to wind the other one. He took the moment to scan the fleet for weaknesses when he saw something that made him laugh out loud. Gadget, annoyed, called back, “What are you laughing at?” Monty roared, “Between Chip and Dale, I don’t know who’s more ‘cuh-razy’! Look at tha battleship!”

Gadget lined up for another attack run, sparing a glance at the big ship. Her mind still calculated the observed spin rate for the turrets, judging her attack plan as good. She aborted her attack run as her logic matrix locked up. She blurted out, “WOAH!!! What the heck?!”

The battleship’s wake had shrunk considerably, and the bow turned sharply into the middle of the group of destroyers it was escorting. Seemingly trying to cause a collision with two of the smaller ships, the battleship either suddenly developed a spontaneous catastrophic effect with its propulsion and rudder, or a certain fedora-wearing chipmunk decided that a suicide gambit would disrupt the enemy’s bishop charge.

Gadget watched as all of the smaller ships slowed down, then broke formation to circle around the bigger ship. She circled around to flank one of the panicking destroyers. She yelled at the battleship, seemingly trying to reach him through her cockpit windshield, “Chip, you wacko! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Meanwhile, the rats had broken the door to the bridge that Chip had barred. Chip threw his hat at the first rat, blinding him. He tripped the rat, dropping him and the two rats behind him to the floor. Chip yelled out, “Zipper, wreck the controls, then help me!”

The fly saluted, then flew under the control panel. He pulled off the maintenance panel and began to rip out every wire, cable, and technical gizmo he could see. Even the wheel was useless once he bit threw the thick string that tied it to the rudder.

The rats began to swarm Chip, lashing out with their bare paws and their fury. Zipper flew in, tripping and slapping faces everywhere, trying to buy Chip time to escape. Chip rolled backwards onto his feet, grabbing a chair and crashing it over a rat’s head. Both seemed to break down, although the rat was technically still in one piece.

Dale had seen the assembled rats start up the stairway. He called out, “Vamp!” Foxglove, catching the signal performed the one maneuver that she hated. She smiled wide, then bared her fangs clearly. She hissed and licked her lips. The crew of sea rats were traditional, old-time sailors. Thusly, they upheld the time-honored tradition of superstition. They froze, trembled, then cried out, “Vampire!”

Several of them ran into each other, knocking each other backwards. Several fell overboard. Foxglove flew close, snapped her jaws at one. He jumped overboard voluntarily, believing that Vampires can’t swim in salt water. Dale bowled into the rest, knocking the wind out of them. He grabbed a circular lifesaver and jammed it over the arms of a rat, kicking him overboard. He then saw a long pole and grabbed it, wielding it like a quarterstaff.

Chip had escaped form the rats, who were more interested in the controls than him. He escaped out of Dale’s bridge door, holding the door for Zipper before slamming it shut. He leaned against it with all his strength.

Dale had just clubbed a rat upside the head with his pole, knocking him out. Foxglove menaced another rat into jumping overboard. She saw one last rat just behind Dale, next to the railing. He ignored Dale, sighting Chip. The rat drew a throwing dagger, razor sharp and bloodstained.

Foxglove panicked, calling out and pointing behind him, “Dale!” Dale, busy searching for more sea rats, dismissed her. “Not now, Foxy.” The sea rat pulled back the dagger, ready to throw. The kind bat’s brain went into overdrive on how to get Dale’s attention and stop the rat. She smiled and said casually, still pointing, “Hey Dale! Boba Fett!”

That got Dale’s attention. Intrigued, he stood up, pole held out in front of him horizontally, then turned to the side swiftly, trying to follow Foxglove’s directions. “Boba Fett? Where?”

WHACK! The pole struck the sea rat between the shoulder blades hard, disrupting his breathing and consequently his balance. The sea rat tumbled into the sea yelling, “Aaaauuuggghhhh!” Dale, disappointed, turned back to Foxglove and said, “Aw, Foxy. That’s not Boba Fett, that’s Chip!” Foxglove gave Dale a big, smarmy grin.

Gadget lined up her sights right on the sweet spot on the destroyer. She thumbed the red switch and fired her third missile. It punched through the ship’s hull and detonated the stored ordinance. She swung the RangerCopter 2 to the far side of the battleship, trying to buy time. She called over her shoulder, “Monty! Reload!”

Monterey was waiting for this chance to rest. It seemed that the RangerCopter 2’s gears unwound themselves faster than its predecessor. He activated the switch for the battery backup, which ran the rotor at a smooth, constant speed.

He moved out of his seat and slid open the floor panel. He reached under his console for the extra stored missiles and began laying them in the launch tubes correctly. As he worked, he called out, “How’re tha lads doin’?”

Gadget switched her sights to the bridge, where she dropped of everyone. To her surprise, the bridge had been re-taken by the rats, who were trying to corner Chip on the outside stairway! She took a chance and smoothly slid the helicopter around the bridge and brought it level with the windows.

The rats on the bridge were furious. No one took over their ship! One yelled out, frustrated, “The controls are wrecked! We’re dead in the water!” Another yelled, pointing at Chip through the bridge door’s window, “There’s the pirate who’s stranded us here! Break the door down!” A third one screamed, “Look out!” The others saw that he pointed out the front windows at the attack helicopter, hovering eye-to-eye with the rats, its guns out and smoking.

Gadget whispered, “Leave. Him. Alone.” She pulled the trigger and sprayed the bulk of her BB’s into the bridge. Glass and plastic shattered inward, filling the air with flying pain. The rats all howled so loudly, she thought she heard them call for mercy. The BB’s kept flying, ripping holes in the bridge’s main structure and shredding the fur off the rats. They filed haphazardly out of the bridge the way they came in, tumbling down the stairs, then jumping in the ocean. She let go of the trigger and barely noticed the temperature warning light on her control panel. A few seconds more of continuous fire and the chainguns would have overheated and jammed.

She saw Chip smile at her and wave. BANG-BANG! Her nerves shattered as badly as the bridge windows, Gadget pulled the RangerCopter 2 sharply away from the battleship, beginning a wide circle to find a firing arc. She called over to Monty, “He’s okay!” Monty, able to guess the gist of what transpired, just gave Gadget a blank look and resumed reloading the missiles.

Chip looked over to the other two destroyers with concern. He then called over to Dale and Foxglove, “Get that turret working at give Gadget some cover!” He then looked over to Zipper and said, “Let’s sweep for any lurking rats, then grab a turret.” The fly buzzed affirmative and followed the detective down the stairway.

Dale, however, got a wild gleam in his eyes. Concerned, Foxglove asked, “Cutie, are you all right? Have you been hit?”

The Hawaiian-clad chipmunk replied, “Foxy, remember all those airplane games where we shot turrets at the enemy?! We get to do that for real! C’mon and reload for me!” The chipmunk got on all fours and raced towards the front-most turret. He opened the door and entered. Foxglove glided over and entered. She sat in the second seat in front of a big lever. He called out, “After I fire, pull that lever all the way back then all the way forward!” The bat replied, “Roger that, Commander Cutie!”

Dale used the wheels in front of him to lower the barrel and swing them around to face the nearby destroyer. He pulled a lever. BANG-BANG! The sound hurt Foxglove’s ears, but she gritted her teeth and let her tears fall. BOOM! That sound was fainter and not painful. She wondered what it was. She pulled her lever until it clicked, then pushed it until it clicked again.

Dale shouted, “Woohoo! Turret destroyed!” He started spinning the wheels again until he heard a sound not made by his own gun. BANG-BANG! Dale’s eyes went wide, then he called out, “Run, Foxy!” CRASH! The deck beside the Rangers’ turret exploded and splintered. The pair abandoned the turret and ran back towards the bridge.

The bat, blinded by the loud noise and her tears reached out and clumsily grabbed her chipmunk’s paw. Dale recognized his error in bringing a bat into a turret that wasn’t soundproofed. He led her across the deck in a zigzag pattern.

Gadget started to cheer as she saw one of the destroyer turrets explode, but then the remaining one targeted the turret on the battleship. It fired, just barely missing. She yelled back, “Monty! Dale and Foxglove are in danger! I need those missiles now!”

Monterey slid the last one in place, then slid the panel shut. He called out, “All done!” He moved back into his seat and surveyed the situation. One destroyer was disarmed and trying to make a run for it. The last one was still armed and shooting the battleship.

BANG-BANG! The armed destroyer fired, striking the recently used turret, causing it to explode into flaming splinters. Gadget aimed the RangerCopter 2 at the offending destroyer and thumbed the red switch. The missile shot out, piercing this ship’s hull. BOOM! The ship actually broke in half, sinking quickly.

Monty called out, “I see Dale an’ Foxglove! They’re okay! Must’ve run for it after the first shot. The sea is littered with swimmin’ rats an’ their life rafts. The last destroyer’s tryin’ ta run.”

Gadget called out sternly, “No, it’s not.” She then turned the RangerCopter 2 around to line up a perfect shot, gratified when all paws decided to jump ship before she shot. The least she could do was wait until they finished before firing.

Meanwhile, Chip and Zipper had descended below deck, looking for more sailors. They didn’t find anyone, but Zipper heard sounds of scavenging in one of the storerooms. Chip opened the door quietly, to discover a familiar gangster in a zoot suit looting the treasure. He was stuffing as much as he could into his pockets.

Chip motioned Zipper to stay hidden in the hallway and wait for his chance. Zipper clung to the wall next to the doorframe. Chip struck a dramatic pose, then taunted, “I thought a rat was supposed to desert a sinking ship. Learn something new every day, I suppose.”

Capone spun around, hate radiating from his eyes. He spoke in low tones, like a snake, “You. I suppose you think you’re a hero, don’t ya? What if I told you that my partners are not the kind to double-cross? What if I told you they were the type to send hitmen out to kill me? To make an example of me? You’ll be responsible for my death, hero. What do you say to that, chipmunk?”

Chip, unfazed by this act of desperation, calmly offered, “It’s really safe inside an A.P.F. prison. I’m willing to bet no one’s going to send anyone after you in there.”

His entire body trembling with hate, Capone’s pupils shrank to tiny dots. His mouth opened wide, emitting no sound. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bag of The Sweet. He screamed, “You can’t bring me in if your heart stops of a massive overdose!” He threw the bag right at Chip.

The detective realized Capone’s plan. The bag explodes on Chip, engulfing him in the drug’s vapor. It would also fill the hallway and ensnare anyone who heard Chip’s cries of pain. On reflex, he shut the door quickly.

The bag stayed in the room, striking the door on the inside. He heard Capone scream terribly, clawing at the door. He begged, “Get me outta here! I’ll die!” Compassion tugged at Chip’s heartstrings. He licked his dry lips and made a decision. He opened the door, ready to grab Capone, pull him out, and slam it shut as quickly as he could.

No drug vapor confronted him, but Rat Capone jumped on top of Chip like a feral animal. He held a jagged razor blade in his paw, bringing it down toward Chip’s neck. Chip tripped over his feet and fell back, Capone on top of him. Chip grabbed Capone’s knife arm with both of his, pushing with all his might. Capone’s weight, momentum, and insane strength gave him the advantage, though. The knife quickly made its way toward Chip’s exposed throat.

Suddenly, Capone’s world went dark. Zipper had pulled Capone’s hat over his eyes. The sudden confusion caused Capone to lose his advantage. Chip took his chance and punched the gangster square in the nose, breaking it cleanly. Chip and Zipper pushed Capone away, getting Chip to his feet.

Seeing as he was outnumbered, Capone fled. He raced up the stairway and out onto deck. Seeing his battleship deserted, bridge smashed, turrets silent, and his fleet sinking, he did the first thing that came naturally to him. He dived over the side.

Chip noticed the bag in the storeroom. It lay on the floor, unopened. He felt like a fool for falling for that trick. Zipper patted Chip’s shoulder supportively. The pair made their way up on deck to watch Capone dive off into the water. Seeing the rest of the fleet sinking, they made their way back to Dale and Foxglove. Once on the other side of the bridge, they saw the RangerCopter 2 fire a missile into the last destroyer, exploding it a second afterwards.

Chip asked, “Everybody all right?” Dale gave him the ‘thumbs-up’ while Foxglove looked at him strangely. The red-nosed one patted her shoulder and said, “She’s got some hearing loss from the guns, but she’s okay otherwise.”

The RangerCopter 2 flew over to land on the battleship, and the side doors opened. Gadget yelled, “Get in! I’m gonna scuttle the ship!” The Rangers piled into the cabin, taking their previous seats. As they lifted off, Gadget asked, “What about Capone?”

The leather-clad chipmunk tilted his fedora down, hiding his eyes. He replied clearly, “He got past me and escaped.” Gadget gave a look of sympathy to him, then returned to her mission. She placed the helicopter to the far side of the battleship, directly overhead of the rats, who had organized themselves in the life rafts. She fired her last missile into the hull of the battleship, near the water line. The missile detonated something inside, but it wasn’t enough to sink the ship by itself.

Monty called out, “I ‘kin see Capone below. He’s tryin’ ta get a life raft all to ‘imself. Ain’t gonna ‘appen, though.” The sea rats began to cheer. At least one of their ships survived the battle. The attack helicopter seemed to be out of ammunition as it watched the battleship take on water, but stay afloat.

Suddenly, the BB launchers came to life, chattering away the rest of their ordinance. The RangerCopter 2 hovered closer to the hole in the hull. It swept left and right, chewing holes in the hull at the waterline. The BB’s acted like a coarse belt sander and jigsaw in one. The hole widened considerably, and a few smaller holes also appeared. Every one took on water at a rapid rate. Soon, the ship began tilting towards the helicopter and assembled floating rats. The rats began to panic and paddled away from the sinking ship, trying not to get caught in the pulling current. The guns clicked empty, and the Rangers cheered inside the cabin. Once the last of the ship sunk beneath the waves, the helicopter turned back to port and flew towards home.

The Rangers were in high spirits, congratulating each other on a successful mission. Dale called out, “Hey, Chip! Won’t those rats just paddle over to the human ship to get on?”

Chip replied, “Nope. Remember, Dale. They work for Capone, who is with them. If they show up, they’ll be a burden to the others. Capone would be captured and taken as a prisoner. That ship is the last place they’ll want to go. They’ll paddle towards the docks. They must be tired and hungry after that battle. McDugell will have the A.P.F. waiting for them when they get back.”

Dale sensed his chance. He innocently asked, “You know how you can tell that those ships were sinking?” Chip immediately turned around and pointed a finger threateningly at Dale, who was just out of arm’s reach. He yelled, “Don’t say it, Dale! Just don’t say it!” Zipper tried to bonk Dale on the head as the red-nosed chipmunk gave Chip a smarmy grin. Foxglove wondered what was so funny.

Gadget flew the RangerCopter 2 over the water and approached the docks. She remembered that she had one more rocket boost at her disposal. Her brain tried to reason with her that she should save it for an emergency.

Instead, she thumbed the switch one more time. The helicopter sped forward to the docks, over the heads of the assembled A.P.F. officers, and past them in less than a second. The howl of the top rotor was heard all along the waterfront, as if announcing their victory.

McDugell watched the helicopter go overhead and disappear down one of the human streets on its way back to its hanger. A bloodied bandage graced his left cheek and his right foot paw was bandaged. A wistful sparkle flashed in his eye as he considered the ramifications of owning such a vehicle. One of the junior officers standing next to him tugged at his sleeve and asked, his voice full of wonder, “Sarge? Was that what I think…?”

The gray squirrel nodded his head and said, “Yep.” The junior officer got excited and stated, “I want one!” McDugell replied simply, “Me too.”

Much later, Capone’s raft bumped against one of the support beams that held the docks above the water. He shoved his way to the ladder, making ready to climb it to the street. He snarled back at his crew, “I’m going first, you losers. I’m gonna get back in the game, bigger and badder than ever. Maybe I’ll hire yous again if I’m feeling generous!” The crew just hung back, hesitant to get back on land. Capone just shook his head, not understanding why such a tough bunch of sea rats are being so timid. He climbed the ladder upwards.

Two pairs of paws grabbed him by the arms and hauled him up past the last couple of rungs. He sputtered, “What the…?” He was brought face-to-face with Sergeant McDugell of the A.P.F. Capone felt the fight drain out of him as he saw the several dozen A.P.F. officers backing him up all along the docks. They all stared at him as if he were the worst scum in history.

McDugell calmly and professionally stated, “Rat Capone, I want to have a little word with you about smuggling narcotics, mixing narcotics, and most of all selling narcotics to children.” The gray squirrel allowed his righteous anger show for a moment as he cracked his knuckles loudly.

Rat Capone’s ‘gulp’ of fear was heard all up and down the docks.

Aboard the human passenger ship, a pack of rats watched the battle happen with disappointment in their hearts. This one seemed like such a promising candidate. The lead rat moved over to operate a long-range radio unit behind a crate. Once he established a connection he began to speak respectfully in heavily-accented Spanish.

“Senior, I have news of the deal. Senior Capone has not completed payment in any amount. All of his payment has been sunk to the bottom of the harbor. I believe he shall be arrested soon. What are your orders?”

The radio remained silent for a moment, then crackled to life.” A heavy voice on the radio replied in a similar dialect. “This Senior Capone has disgraced us in the eyes of the world. No others will respect us unless we deal with this clearly. Come back home and you will receive your new orders. I will contact someone else to take care of Senior Capone personally.”

The rat acknowledged the orders, then shut off the radio. The rats shared a collective shudder in the dark. They may be sea rats, but even they were not nearly so cruel as the one their employer would surely send for Capone. For a moment, just a moment, they felt sorry for him.

The next morning, Chip shuffled into McDugell’s office to sit down heavily in his usual chair. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he groused, “What could possibly so important to bother us this early?”

The Rangers had returned to headquarters after dark yesterday. Everyone started feeling the strain of the past few days all at once. They grabbed a quick snack and just went off to bed. Early this morning, Carl had delivered a message to the Rangers that need to see them on a final matter A.S.A.P. Everyone had awakened at the woodpecker’s knocking and assembled in the living room. Reading the note, Chip told the others to make breakfast and he would take care of it.

Expecting to argue some minor detail to death, he decided to ruin McDugell’s day as much as his was already ruined. Instead of taking the bait, McDugell replied pleasantly, “It’s not that early, Chip. I’m always at the office at this time. I just thought everyone would want to know the final results of this case.” He passed a report to Chip.

Chip read it, pleased at the results. Dr. Woodridge had developed an experimental drug that could help ease the withdrawal symptoms of Sweet’n’Sour. It wasn’t a cure, but it was a start. Volunteer testing would start in days.

He mentioned, “I see you’re rounding up those stragglers that escaped the raids. How are you able to find them?” McDugell snorted derisively, answering, “Those scum. They’ll sell their own mother out just for a reduced sentence. Everyone is all too willing to expose each other for the chance at even a partially-reduced sentence. It’s only a matter of time before we get them all.”

He leaned forward, a serious expression on his face. He said sympathetically, “I heard what they said at St. Octavia’s. It happens, Chip. Just remember that those folks were half-mad with grief. As a favor, when we give our press statement I’ll put in a blurb about that incident on your behalf.”

Chip gave back the report, nodding gratefully, “Yes, that will really fix our team spirit. It hurt, McDugell. It really hurt to hear that stuff. How do you deal with it?”

The gray squirrel leaned back into his chair, a more relaxed expression pleasantly gracing his features. ‘More pleasant’ being totally neutral. He replied, “I like to watch old T.V. shows. Skywolf, for example.”

Chip hid his blush with his hat, saying, “Yeah, well that was Gadget’s idea. It does sound the slightest bit corny, doesn’t it?”

McDugell interrupted him, stating, “That’s not the point, Chip. I saw it all through my binoculars. Chainguns that strip the fur off animals. Missiles that can blow up cargo ships with one shot. Rocket boosters that can outrun any A.P.F. pursuit craft. A machine like that, Chip, is no longer just for peacekeeping. That’s a military craft. I’m afraid I can’t let that go uncontrolled in my city. I’m sure you understand.”

The leather-clad detective boggled at his friend. “Wha-what do you mean?! You’re not going to take the RangerCopter 2 from us, are you? It’s private property! I mean, sure it’s powerful, but it’s us controlling it! The Rescue Rangers! You can trust us!”

The A.P.F. officer said, “I know. That’s why I want you to fill out this form and keep a copy of it in your vehicle’s storage compartment.” He then quickly tossed Chip a clipboard with a form on it.

The chipmunk read the form out loud. “Application for permit to carry high-yield explosives and other military-grade ordinance, but only within the city limits. If you leave the city limits, you’re in big trouble, young man.”

Confused, he looked up to see the A.P.F. Sergeant finally lose his composure. “Ha, ha, ha! You should have seen the look on your face, Chip!” Chip also burst out laughing. The two friends shared a hearty belly laugh for several minutes, nearly rolling out of their chairs.

Several wagers were completed that day. Money in various forms of currency changed paws several dozens of times. The biggest winner was Patrol Officer Norma Sharptooth, a field mouse who had moved to the city last year to join the A.P.F. She raked in over a hundred wedges of cheese for betting he would laugh before the end of the year because of a television show.